Some time back, I wrote a post called “Adventures in the City” about slow, deliberate walks in the city and finding adventures hidden in everyday sceneries. And I have been writing about “the City” for a while now, never calling it by name. But I took a few photos on that day (none very professional or even not-blurry, I’m afraid) and I thought it might be time for the City to be properly introduced. And since this blog is fast becoming a little piggy bank for my little moments of infinity, here it is :
The City, My City in all the delicate splendour of a mid-Saturday stroll, sounds of rustling leaves overlapping car honks and the shrill of bicycle bells cutting through.
The sky so blue it hurts my eyes, a gradient of azure that makes me itch to dive in and not surface for a while as I look for stars and nebulae hidden at the other end of the cosmos.
Little discs of sunlight, from when light streams through the gaps and interstices of the foliage, swaying oh-so gently with the wind that rustles the foliage. I’ve taken a mind to calling them “Sunlight ricochets”, lately.
I could spend forever here, craning my neck back to gaze at this lushness, this oasis of filtered light and nature in the heart of a bustling city that, too often, is harsh and cutthroat on the edges. The trees are gentle giants, shielding weary humans from the outside world as they form a dome of sorts over the heads of visitors, leaving warm sun-stains all over the exposed skin of arms, necks, faces and legs. Their endless veins make me look at mine, make me wonder at how my body is so complex : elaborate circuits running under my skin, working day and night, endlessly.
Light. This is very bad photography, probably, what with taking in all that glaring white light. But I love this, all the same.
The city, constructing itself. Constantly rebuilding, constantly changing face.
” I would rather be here than be alone.” (and what a statement that is, what a thing to feel when you yourself are so usually enmeshed in solitude, wrapped around it like a wedding band around a ring finger).
Weeks of familial effusion, of knitting together days quietly (and not-so-quietly) spent occupying space together have passed. And with them the careless brushes, touches you do not need to think twice about, affection that needs no explanation. It has been weeks of others becoming extensions of myself, of feeling that : “I would rather be here than be alone.” (and what a statement that is, what a thing to feel when you yourself are so usually enmeshed in solitude, wrapped around it like a wedding band around a ring finger). Somewhere, the barriers of ‘you’ and ‘me’ and ‘them’ have melted a bit, like chocolate on a hot day and have left us with intersecting spaces called ‘us’.
This feeling, it is that of blood that is finally around its own, it is like an ocean that has found its own rhythm, like strangers that have found others like them. It is the reality of living in an inner circle only we know, of calendars marked by the days of our personal achievements and ridiculous little happenings in our lives (That time N. got engaged, and Aunt M. started her own business, that day when B., aged 3, demanded the softest of cakes, in french).
Family is warm, warm, warm, where the rest of life is sometimes cool and works in seasons. Family is just one person, sometimes. Or, in some cases, a whole fleet of people who don’t look like you or share the same gene pool. But family is not always easy. Family is also work. And a slew of other little or big issues.
But even this richness, this ambient, suffusing warmth can leave one feeling a bit hot, needing some air. Needing to be on one’s own.
And so now the 2 a.m. conversations in the semi-darkness of a living room have faded. The alternate reality of 3 a.m. teapots, pastries and chips have flown away in an aircraft, held in suspension in the skies waiting for a next time. Now that I have made my peace with the goodbyes that I have said, now that I can swallow the feeling of missing someone, can process the flashes of memories, I must tend to the gardens of thoughts inside my head. They have overflown and overgrown, have tumbled over the precipice, the mouth of the chalice. Now I must groom a garden angry at being left alone, at not being kept in shape and style.
Carefully, I must pluck thoughts and and go through each of them with the patience of one who has spent an eternity learning botany, and the quirks and ways of all flowers and plants. I must give them all attention and nourishment, sunlight and beautiful words. Feed them meaning and purpose and things worth living for.
I must find myself again, a little, in the seasons of life, in the way the leaf drifts, alone, from the (family) tree.
Note : Here, explained, the reason behind the sporadic posting lately. Thank you for your patience ❤
Like a golden coin glinting under the sun, hidden amidst swishing blades of grass, he appeared to me as though a midsummer night’s dream one late morning at the end of June.
I was being carted off — There is something about routine and contracts that turn you against yourself, that make you wake up in spite of the sleepiness assailing you, the feeling of being yanked back into dark unconsciousness as though knocked out by a gloved hand, emerging only because of sheer duty…fear? And yet, I chose, choose everyday to do this. Not a day goes by that is not my choice. It is not obligation that wakes me. Not the idea of losing a job that fuels my fear—it is dreams, growth, the many small, wonderful things that can happen during the day. I am not repulsed by this routine because I am not trapped in it. I am not caught in the stream of everydays, submerged by the currents of norms and expectations, struggling to break through and ultimately resigned to be taken wherever the waters will. No : I choose. I choose everyday to do what I do.
And so, I was carting myself off to work in a shuttle that seemed to be going both slow and fast, as though someone was playing with the fast-forward and rewind buttons in a film. Some moments passed in a blur, evaporated from my consciousness as though they had never existed. Others were so startling, so vivid I could almost touch them through the glass of the window.
We were going through what, next to the glittering shore and the tunnel of trees bent over the road, is turning out to be one of my favourite passing-places. Going through there feels like exploring a painting. Or better yet, like the mental image of the artist painting it. We were navigating rows upon rows of fields that stretched on beyond what the eye could see. Layers of rich, tilled soil gleamed under the sun, and the soft greenery of saplings covered the slopes and dips of the scenery as though a coat of light snow. Shimmering, the tender pink of crop-flowers bent with the wind, spreading a delicate scent of wildness about.
And in the middle of all this, the dwarfed bus puttered on in the motorway that had never, before that moment, seemed so narrow, so modest.
There were grass-cutters about, busying themselves as though ants in a great wilderness. The smell of freshly-cut grass sliced through the thickness of glass windows, filling my nostrils, memories of an old garden rushing back lightning-fast.
And there he was, liminal, someplace in between the fields and the motorway.
A midsummer night’s vision that appeared one late morning in the month of June—lying in a roadside ditch.
There where the strange trees grow, the ones with the large gaps in their foliage that let sunlight stream through as though through a sieve. There, where the grass stops just shy of growing, where, a few centimetres away, gravel crunches underneath your foot. There, right there in the softness of the earth, he lay. And looked at indescribable things some ways beyond the interstices in the yellow-green leaves. A thousand little suns danced in his vision, kaleidoscopic and infinite as his arms crossed behind his head. His legs were sprawled out, his feet pillowed by a mattress of grass and roadside flowers. He looked as though he had been dropped from the sky, and his first instinct was to lay down and contemplate the worlds around him.
All around, the grass-cutters and their scythe-like machines buzzed on, sending grass flying up and down and sideways, over his head. But with a thousand little suns shining on brightly all around him, he simply did not belong to the same stratosphere.
The way the bus whooshed past, I could not have seen him for more than 3 seconds.
And yet, one late morning at the end of June, as I was carting myself off to work, I saw a man lying in a roadside ditch, a midsummer night’s vision, an image of freedom seared into my mind. And oh, the choice he embodied, to be lying under the trees one late morning, to be swimming in the lights of otherworlds….He was…ethereal, superlunary. It was his choice to be. For a split second, I envied him but I knew he had made his choice and I, mine.
But the light of a thousand little suns, even through a bus window, even for 3 seconds’ time is not something that you can forget.
Not even now. In my head, it is the same as that day. A thousand suns burn bright, infinite.
“It takes the attention away from the cloudiness that hides under my skin, the one that comes out in puffs of idealism and murmured poetry spoken into the skies, words that, like kites with broken strings, will not return.”
Unsolicited muscles burn to life, light up, bloom blotches of pain red like a traffic light or scattered roses across tender skin. This ache, soft yet clamorous, is grounding, more so than any whispered words, any gentle-willed reminder to breathe and feel. Where the world blurs outside of my vision, all foggy and confused about what it is and what it wants to be, where the mountains feel like cotton balls that could take off at any moment now, ready to be blown away by the softest breath or the easy course of a summer breeze, this redness is sharp, focused. It clamps down on my arms, dragging the muscles with any movement, serving as a reminder.
It takes the attention away from the cloudiness that hides under my skin, the one that comes out in puffs of idealism and murmured poetry spoken into the skies, words that, like kites with broken strings, will not return.
Some days, I am afraid that like an alien hiding behind human skin, I will be found to be— behind the perfectly obedient façade— a well of profound fuzziness, a nebulous chaos frayed at the edges; an erratic creature that follows loose threads of Fate and ends up in impasses, dead-ends, somewhere at the ends of the Universe, in the silence of all things.
Where I have taken the pulse of life for granted, this throbbing within the very marrow of my bones does not desist. Its pain is like the light of thought running along neurons, the ones that, in the absolute, eternal obscurity of a solitary brain, emit light like stars in the silent universe.
There is more to this body than meets the eye.
It remembers what my brain has never known to have experienced. Phantom touches, phantom pain. It knows, without needing a single thought, how to draw the curves of cheeks and lips, how to loop the Y’s and G’s into a unique handwriting that is not the result of my mind’s efforts.
My body has intelligence I cannot comprehend.
Which is why, when my limbs groan and let out this soft ache, this not-uncomfortable sting, I listen. Because bodies are honest where minds fail, sometimes. Minds are tricky places to be : as though a hall of mirrors, you never know what’s real and what’s not, and since so much of reality is a perception, there’s rarely ever any certainty.
This ache, this pain blossoming up my arms, it is a reminder that I am alive.
That I am not trapped inside a body, a mindset, a routine or a lifestyle.
It is a warning, too.
To not let this life slide by, to not let it go dead without a bang, like a firework that could never explode into an all-encompassing darkness, never lighting up the world, instead letting obscurity —and silence—reign.
Your pages came in pre-yellowed, and I knew then you were just my type.
Aside from the corny quote on your cover, you were pretty cool. You’ve been home to so many of my thoughts over these past 8 months. You have been the universe holding all of my wor(l)ds together all this time. You have seen the birth of E., have witnessed her first staggering steps into existence and lostness. You’ve been places, too. You have traveled a lot in the safety of my bag—under the trees, by the sea, to the port….The sound of waves has echoed off of you, and have had me write odes to the ocean, build shrines for wanderlust. You have yellowed beautifully under the sun, have drunk its warmth and creaminess. There are adventures written in between your lines that I do not know how to read.
You are infused with the stuff of all my being, have immortalised a part of me. You hold, in writing, moments I no longer remember. If one day, years later, I come back looking for the 2x-old me, I will find her in your pages. When one day I will have died, there will always be a version of me hanging around in between your smooth, streaked turquoise covers, questioning existence, marveling at infinity.
And oh, we’ve had a few adventures, too. And they have left you with marks and scratches, pen strokes and dents in the softness of your cushioned cover. And there’s also a tiny cut on your back cover, but let’s not talk about that.
I really do get too attached to things.
Because it’s not just the memories I cherish. This has been a part of my journey, and you, inanimate object that you are, have strangely —like the others before— become a companion. I am still on that journey, still on the road, while yours ends here. You’ve fulfilled your purpose and found home alongside others, on the one not-messy shelf of an otherwise chaotic display.
But there are new adventures coming up. And a new companion.
This one is all sharp angles with a smooth black, crocodile skin pattern cover. The sides are all golden, gleaming like threads made from our very own sun. It is a bit fancy. And quite large.
And not as yellowed inside yet, but I’ll manage somehow.
Note : And behold now (a bit of) the very journal I am saying goodbye to, complete with corny (and yet more fitting now than ever) quote. But the bicycle is a nice touch, you’ll have to admit.
I’ve been read the stories; how Little Red Riding Hood runs into the wolf because she is bewitched by the road less traveled by, how “Le Petit Poucet” is lost in the woods trying to find the way home.
Wandering’s bad, I’ve been told.
Nothing good comes out of it.
Keep off the abandoned gardens, stay away from the battered brick house falling apart. Do not try to slide in the silver of space between two houses. Do not go down roads unknown. Do not roam.
“Do not wander,” my mother used to warn me “You will get lost.”
And for many of my most wonderful years, I did not.
When insomnia woke me up in the years between 6 and 10, I did not wander up to the roof. I did not go to see what the night looked like, what the night would feel like on my skin. I never tried to fly my kite at night, to see how it would look like in the moonlight. I watched the dangling keys, out of reach. I looked out from behind barred windows, watched the grass bow to the wind, creating waves and ripples of green. I watched the night unravel, turning into dawn. I stretched out my hand, tried to grab a fistful of night, of lostness in my hand. I inhaled freedom from the curve of my cupped palm.
But it was like smelling flowers that would never be mine. Like trying on someone else’s clothes.
So I imagined other people. Blurry, faceless, and big—towering. How did these people live the night ? What kind of world was out there beyond my reach, separated by a single door ? What dangerous life could there be that would leave no trace come the next morning, soft and dewy ? How—how could the night be bad if it looked so beautiful ?
I think somewhere, we’ve been robbed of the idea of lostness. How enchanting it can be, how in lostness many wonderful paths can be uncovered, explored. How, in lostness, one finds pieces of oneself.
I want to reclaim that lostness doused in fear and caution.
I would like to be showered in night. To let the stars, the milky way and all the worlds beyond engulf me.
I want to roam the countryside, to ride bicycles down dirt roads that lead to the middle of nowhere. I want to climb trees and roll down hills and see for myself just how deep that creek really is.
I want to wander and I want to be lost.
Maybe I’m not a Little Red Riding Hood. Maybe I’m not a “Petit Poucet”. Maybe I’m a Little Prince, who visits planets and talks to strange kings and businessmen. Maybe I’m a Little Prince who tames foxes, who speaks to snakes and makes friends of stranded aviators.
Decluttering, cleansing, finding myself again underneath all of the debris.
Ever since I first had one up until now, my desk has always been a mess. The result of a scatterbrained eagerness for any kind of learning, an ache to pick up new skills like a child wants to adopt every stray puppy they see.
Fountain pens for calligraphy,
charcoal for sketches,
pages of Spanish vocabulary,
a mandarin handbook.
There was always a story to be found in the messes I made. Always something to read in between the layers of stuff strewn all over. We all leave traces behind. Like the wind carves unfathomable patterns into sand dunes, like the waves imprint the shore in abstruse motifs. Like paw prints left in the mud, marks left against a tree trunk. Oddly, I felt this was mine.
Something about it felt deeply personal. Like that mess pattern was one only I could create, one wrought from my whimsical thinking, my moods, my interests, my states of mind, my worlds. Something that was entirely different from what another person’s mess would be like if they had the same items at hand. It also gave me a lot of places to hide behind. Behind a book or wads of paper, lead staining my fingers to keep people away, making them believe in the idea of intense creation, of passion and creativity running wild, something that should not be interrupted, obstructed.
But I also kept a lot of junk.
Ridiculous things I was too afraid to throw out. Because somehow, they became not souvenirs, but escape routes. As though holding onto them would take me back, away from not so pleasant realities. I hoarded these insignificant things, bits and bobs, almost compulsively. I dug my nails into these scraps from the past, into wood shavings left from once impressive moments. I kept so many things because sometimes the present is scary. And the future both marvelous and uncertain; foreign. But the past, the past is home.
It was then, I think, that nostalgia sank so deep into my skin. Filled my pores with the scent of old pages, of yellowed memories. Gave me this faraway look that I cannot shake from my eyes. Cloaked me in gentle sadness, in longing for a place and time that no longer exist outside of my brain and its peach-coloured memories.
I lived in the past. In worlds spun from idealised, romanticised memories. I swam in diluted truths also given new life by a bored imagination, a creativity itching to get started again.
I have began throwing them out, now.
Detaching myself from the havens they once promised.
It’s a sort of materialism, too. I realise. By wanting to keep a moment alive through an object, you end up glorifying it instead, sometimes forgetting why it even matters so much— you just know possessively, agressively that it does.
So yes, I am done with the button that fell off one of my clothes at some point in time. Done with random junk from my school days. And old receipts.
But I am still keeping my movie ticket stubs. Still wondering how I am going to reuse the unstitched sleeves from my ship-wheels and sailboats dress. Because, come on, that’s symbolic. I’m also cleaning out my phone. Deleting near-duplicates of the same shot. Keeping only what matters truly (and well a little bit more, too).
And I am not obsessing over keeping things either. I am not digging my nails into things, not wrenching my arms possessively around overflowing cardboard boxes. I am learning to let go. To enjoy now.
Mentally too, it’s liberating. Like I’m shedding years of old relationships that no longer hurt now that I am freed of them. No longer am I fractured, either. I am not whole, but…pieced back together, even if sometimes it feels like I just stuck a band-aid on it and prayed the bits and pieces would hold themselves together.
Under the weight of clutter and memories, I feel like I shrank a bit all this time.
Even now, I am still messy.
But I clean up more often. I throw out old bills, pamphlets. I don’t let things clutter my space, my mind. After all, with all these useless things out of the way, I can finally set to work on creating a mess that is all me.
“I disappear for half-hours. I disappear for walks that take me through interweaving roads that always, always, lead to the sea.”
I can’t complain.
I could be stuck from 9 to 5 in a glass tower lost among so many others in some cyber-city, like a modern damsel in distress, not knowing how to save myself. I could be glancing longingly at the city, the world from behind a fax machine.
But everyday between 9 and 9:30 in the morning, my eyes feast upon sparkling seawater crashing gently on soft, sandy beaches. And before that, it seems that I walk through overgrown lavender fields, pushing through bushes of flowers that seem to spring through the glass of the bus window. I am able to be there to cherish the sight of grass glistening with morning dew. I can’t complain; I have nearly fallen asleep on low-lying rattan sofas, warmed by the sun on a terrace, hypnotised, lulled by the pretty displays of sunlight dancing through the geometric patterns of the wood. I have blinked into consciousness through haze and haze, past daydreams and reveries, to low chuckles and to the distant sounds of soft conversation had over steaming mugs of tea or coffee.
I can’t complain because ‘lunch breaks’ have come to mean walks by the sea, and quietness as you watch people swim, sunbathe, eat ice-cream, read a book. I can’t complain because when my mind won’t write (and my pen is still full of ink) I disappear for half-hours. I disappear for walks that take me through interweaving roads that always, always, lead to the sea.
I can’t complain because I cannot tell you of all the times I have worn that dress, the one with the ship wheels and sailboats amid wavelets of people dressed in slacks and clicky heels and it has not mattered.
And every day when I go home, slack and tired, I see a child and a fisherman, just silhouettes, side by side, throwing their lines out at sea, into the setting sun.
No, I can’t complain. Right now, this is all I need; it is contentment enough. But I don’t want to delude myself into thinking this is all I will ever need. I do not believe in this rigid idea of ‘happiness’—something you happen upon, that remains much the same over time. But I believe in fluid contentment, in inner peace, something that has an ebb and flow, a beginning, an end. Something that changes with you. Eventually, my heart will not be satisfied with what I have now and I will want something else. But not now, not right now. Right now, I have all I need. And I can’t com—and I am thankful, eternally.
Besides, I am learning that wanting more does not necessarily mean being ungrateful.
A little while back, I considered (tried) going on a writing hiatus. My anxious mind, always eager to veer into the extremes, had me toy with the idea of leaving this blog altogether. What if, it wondered, you took a hiatus and just…never came back? What if, in that moment in time, something drastic happened and life changed so much you couldn’t get back to writing, blogging?
It wasn’t the first time I asked myself this question. Not the first time I tried quitting, more or less.
And it occurred to me, in between all that advice that “You should write for yourself.” and “We should all admit we write for others too.” that I’d found my one reason why I write. I won’t deny that I like having people read what I write and relate to it, or just think that something I made was just a little beautiful. But do I write for myself ? Maybe sometimes.
As critical as I am of my own writing, there are some pieces I am very fond of. Because reading them, I am not only taken back to a moment in time, but also to the moment I put pen to paper and extracted a memory combined with a feeling and an atmosphere. I am taken back to the time I was able to describe what, to me, was indescribable, overpowering, nameless.
Writing on this blog has been like curating my own little world. There is my writing, but also things I find beautiful, things I love. Sometimes it’s a painting, a song. Sometimes a quote. It all adds up to this little stash of things I love. Or have loved at one point in time. And sometimes I have cool people tell me they really like the same things I do, which, I have to admit really does make me smile.
And now I’m writing this here because…because this feels important (?). Like one of the things you’re meant to write down just in case you forget.
It always feels weird to post something so self-centred and not have a straightforward answer as to why I’m posting it. I wasn’t even going to add an artwork to this, but it really was just too beautiful not to add. Either way, I’m guessing I’ll just have to take a leap here.
“There are no rules, you know at 10:30 a.m. on a Friday? All the rules are elsewhere. In office buildings and schools ; in pages of binding, binded contracts. “
Have you ever wondered what life was like in an unoccupied space? What happens in a space left bare, with no one to witness what happens there? Do you realise, I asked myself, that everyday, all around this gigantic world, rightnow, there are millions of places like this, where wonderful, unknown things are happening, that no one will ever have knowledge of?
Today, I came back home early. I passed by the stone church with the rose roof, and the small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it park facing it. I passed by much before the first cars leaving work started filling the streets with smoke and haste and an air of impatience. Much before people started rushing. Much before Time mattered. There are no rules, you know at 10:30 a.m. on a Friday? All the rules are elsewhere. In office buildings and schools ; in pages of binding, binded contracts. But outside of that, Life just flows. Undisturbed, hushed, covered as though a scene from within a snowglobe (and I a symbolic human figure). And there it was, that liminal space. There was that opening, that silver of time during which the small park detached itself from earth, from reality a little. At the same time I stood in awe, an old man cycled past, half dozing on his rusty bicycle. It was so quiet you could hear the sound of his tires pressing against the asphalt, and crackling a little on stray bits of gravel.
In the park, a kaleidoscope* of small, pale yellow butterflies was fluttering by a low flower bush. The wind blew gently, a little foreign, carrying some unknown scent. I thought to myself that if I hadn’t caught that moment, it would have slipped forever into ignorance and nothing would have come of it.
There is beauty in being alone in places and moments like these. There is power, yes, in witnessing all these things that would otherwise never have made it into the human consciousness. But at its core is humility, reverence. People often say that ‘this and this place gives a whole other view at night’, but places are whole other places too without people. Places are whole other worlds when you are alone. When you get to witness, all on your own, the way a tree loses its petal-like leaves, fluttering gently in colored heaps by its roots. It is like a lullaby for the eyes. For something deeper, even. It satiates you for that moment, completely. Fills all your needs and wants to the brim with contentment. With gratitude, with “Thank you for letting me witness this moment.”.
It stirs something in you, carries you away for a little while.
And for much longer every time you think of it.
It is a memory, yes, but also an endless journey.
Listening to :
* YES, a group of butterflies can actually be called a kaleidoscope. How beautiful is this. Unreal, I tell you.
Also, this :
I get so swept up writing about the time I got swept up that words like ‘flutterblies’ happen…That being said, ‘butterfly’ is actually an anagram of ‘flutter by’ soooo…