Beach days.

The sea salt is drying on my skin as I write you this, what once was the ocean leaving a taste of this morning’s swim on my lips.

Do you know what the beach is like when the sun has only just risen?

It is quiet, pacifying. New, as though the oceans hadn’t existed for light years prior to that morning.  There we all were, housing beautiful contradictions: we were star-skinned, yet pieces of a ticking clock, rewinding time yet moving forward.

I’ve known them for a very long time, these friends.

We were still tender when we met, eyes wide and cheeks plump, unaware of everything living entailed. We could never have known, 20 years ago, in between petty quarrels, skinned knees and games of tag, that we would ever reach here, now.

But there we were, making history, ignoring Time.

You know, Time is a mirror: when you ignore Time, it ignores you back. When you chase it, it chases you. When you check on it, it checks on you.

So because we did not care for Time, the morning passed slowly. The stories of our lives flowed like streams in the world we had created for ourselves, expanded the bubble that had unwittingly appeared around us. It is uncommon to feel both free and safe at the same time, but that’s exactly how I felt. Unchained yet protected. Another beautiful contradiction to add to the list.

Never let me forget this day, will you?


Listening to:

Note:
So apparently, you can add videos now, so I’m going to add a video just because I can. Did it have to be a vertical video though 😂

Second Try.

It takes a night ride for a song to truly sink into your skin sometimes.

It is winter now and golden hour tickles the planes of my face at merely 5. An hour later, the sun sets. By the time I step out of my office building at 7, I am greeted by the stinging slap of dropping nocturnal temperatures, engulfed in the silks of night.

It’s a 4 to 6 songs-long route from there in H.’s bright red honda civic that’s lived very well indeed.

The thing about H. is he’s a mélomane. He loves music, understands it, composes it, lives it, could tell you the roots and influences of every musical genre, and explain the story behind every Beatles song. His guitar is named Lana Del Rey. Stars light up in his eyes when he speaks of auteurs-compositeurs-interprètes, artists who write, compose and perform their own songs. Because of that, he really doesn’t mind what music you put on, if you jump from genre to genre, if you swerve into a gentle indie song right after blasting an 80s electro-pop classic. He doesn’t mind because he loves it all. This kind of passion is rare, this love for art so pure.

So I feel comfortable enough to share my playlist with him.

And what a loaded gesture that is: playlists are so intimate. Songs become so personal they may as well be us, telling our stories, spilling our deepest desires as though we had written and sung them. Songs are tender spots in our otherwise hardened exteriors. They are windows through which the light comes in; windows that can also be shattered. It is a tremendous exercise in trust to give a song to someone else. You hold your breath as the first note comes out, watch the person intently for any sign of appreciation or dislike. Your heart hammers between your ribs, threatening to burst or flee. ‘Why did I do this?’ stabs your mind a thousand times in a few seconds.

And then, the first smile. The first ‘Wow’, the delight behind the ‘Who sings this?!’

Together, H. and I comment on lyrics, gush about vocal registers and hum to instrumentals. We sing, we wait a beat and then belt out songs in traffic jams. We ugly-laugh into the night.

It’s a budding friendship.

I had recently gotten a song from Kodaline — a band that never ceases to endear themselves to me with how simple and arresting their songs are, how natural they feel, as though they had simply come to be one day, like wild, seasonal fruits.

I’d carried this song around on errands all about the city, ears too sensitive after 3 months’ silence to bear the overwhelming allness of the capital: clangs and whirs, beeps and honks, shuffling feet, crashes, shouts, crowds… Occasionally, I’d flicked the song to the side, skipped it.

It’s something of a mystery how this song that had slipped past me took on new meaning in a speeding red Honda. The beauty I had failed to catch all of a sudden filled the air, something of a Big Bang: from nothing to everything, it expanded, hot, into every atom, every particle of dust and air, every bit of night that rushed through the open windows and then out.

And I wanted to ask myself why, why I hadn’t understood it before, why it hadn’t hit like it had in that moment.

But I couldn’t, you know?

When Life gives you music, you dance. When Life hands you a moment, you take it, no questions asked.


Note: I hope you are doing well, wherever you are.

Also, am I the only person this sort of thing happens to? I am usually fairly confident in my ability to understand something deeply, especially if it’s of an artistic nature. But every now and then, I’ll have HUGE blind spots and exhibit an astounding lack of taste. Case in point, this song by Kodaline. But also Moana. And the movie ‘Her’. For some weird reason, it just doesn’t hit the first time around??

 

 

Slices of life.

young adult old soul magic realism writing
Art by: Pascal Campion

Picture-perfect silence.

The sound of the world standing still, holding its breath. In a city like mine, a capital city populated with banks and company headquarters, the marble-faced buildings of supreme courts and parliament alike, even the suburbs are no strangers to the constant humdrum of the city. Something or the other is always happening: a huge delivery in China Town, a busy pedestrian crossing, hot milk tea being poured for patrons of hole-in-the-wall places at every time of day, a housewife’s middling day, a workman on site. There are slices of life unraveling all about, all with their own comings and goings. There’s never a boring day, even when there is. If nothing is happening to you, you can just look out your window and imagine someone else’s day.

“What kind of shoes is the cobbler mending today?”

“Did they finally get rid of that pink graffiti on the corner of Ducasse street?”

“Wonder what the cats by the school bridge are up to today.”

If you’re a little bit tired of your own life, you can just step into another. Stories aren’t hard to find, escapes are near, just a conversation away, within the reach of a cloud of thoughts.

There is life everywhere, on rooftops and bus stops, on old, cobbled roads, in craft markets and old Chinese shops, in schools and book stores, at the tailor’s and down the flower shop street. There are more stories out there than there are dropped cents on the streets.

Now though, at 6 in the morning, not even the church bells toll. The mouldy, obscenely red buses don’t hurtle by, leaving clouds of smoke behind. The city, the world, has stilled, coming to a screeching, silent halt. It is as though someone had just flicked a switch off.

Even in the suffocating closeness of suburbia, not even the murmur of a conversation rises in the air. No rustle, no bustle, no sighting of another human being outside of your own household. No old men asserting their views in the streets that once belonged to them, no motorcycles weaving obnoxiously through narrow streets. No stories, no escapes. The city has pricked its finger and fallen deep into sleep, only stirring to catch the current of news at 6 pm sharp.

In the midst of that radio silence, were you to look at the city from above — sloping as it does at the feet of mountains — you might find a head, gleaming black, poking out from a balcony, in the narrow space between two houses.

The wind runs through my hair, its currents silkily gliding through the creases of my mind. I’m out here, as “out” as I can be in these times of quarantines and nation-wide lockdowns, soaking in the light of a pale winter sun.

Take in the silence, the silence of nothingness. 

There will come an end to all this, distant and blurry as it may seem. Soon, the world will be shaken rudely from its sleep, startled again into breakneck speeds and imminent burnouts.

Enjoy the silence, and the things you can only enjoy now. 

Too soon, this moment will be gone and you will wish you had lived it more ardently and experienced it more fully.

There are slices of life in this, too. Stories, if only you knew to look within yourself, to accept this silence and dive into it. But you’re afraid of the accusations that will rise, belly up. You’re afraid you will look into that water and not see yourself. It was so easy, wasn’t it, jumping from one life to the next, switching timelines, surrendering control of your life to go explore someone else’s. You made imagination into an ivory tower and now that a curse of a spell has fallen on the city, you are stranded in your own life.

Even now, you gaze at the skies and wish you could jump into them.

But there’s no hurry.

Air your thoughts, soak in the sun, catch a break, hum that song. Have this moment, simply.

Turn to the skies, to the double-edged beauty of this passing moment, and lose yourself in the silence of all things.


Note: I hope you are all doing well in spite of everything and are able to find a moment to catch a break and breathe and be.

Watching:

Winter warmth.

felicia chiao young adult old soul magic realism writing
Art by: Felicia Chiao

It’s officially linger-in-the-shower weather.

Huddle under your blanket weather and watch the rain pelting, the raindrops racing down the window pane. It is the time for deep sleep, for storing warmth and creating it, luxuriating in its feel, letting it curl deep in your belly as it comforts some deep ache, erases some old pain.

I am not usually one for hot beverages; I was never quite in love with tea like everyone else in my country seems to be and didn’t care much for coffee growing up.

But lately, I have been brewing myself a simple little pleasure, if only to watch the clouds of water vapour curl elegantly in the air. I try to remember the liberal turns these vapours take so that I may trace them later on paper, in one sketch or another.

The warmth of a honey-lemon infusion is grounding between my palms and the liquid gently sloshes in my mug, catching the light, refracting it. I could stay for hours doing this: pouring dollops of golden flower honey into a well-loved mug, then going in for a moment of real-life magic, the kind that involves no prestidigitation, no sleight of hand. I pour a little bit of steaming water from the kettle. Then, gently, I swish the contents around, watching with bated breath as a golden pattern emerges, one resembling the hives in which the honey was made. Of course, that’s not quite exact, but a girl can dream. I dream that with a flick of a wrist, the swirl of some water, secrets are revealed to me, deciphered under my eyes during a performance set in golden tones, under pale sunlight. There is a world at the bottom of my mug, a door opened to me, unlocked with a piece of secret knowledge.

It is such a shame to have to lose all that, to have to stir the honey in. Nonetheless, when I’ve had my fill of this visual spectacle, I squeeze in some fresh, fragrant lime or lemon juice, allowing myself to enjoy the sound of the mug filling up. Then I stir until I obtain a honeyed drink in taste and colour both.

My hands wound almost too soon around the porcelain mug, leaving my palms stinging and a little bit red, but the comfort is so real. So potent. It settles some profound part of me, slows down the thoughts running abuzz, brings my whole body to a lull as anxiety fizzles out.

It’s a moment but also a state of being, a sort of permanence where all the stray bits of my disarrayed self align. Then, I can exhale, deep from my lungs, even deeper yet, from the place where all my anxieties lie and all my fears lay in wait.

So, as odd as this sounds, I’m a little bit grateful for the cold that gives life to so much warmth.


Note: I hope you are all doing very well and keeping safe ❤️ And you can try out the honey trick for yourself, it definitely works! But it also works with other substances having the same kind of viscosity, so even if it’s pretty to imagine it’s a honey-exclusive phenomenon, it’s not lol. Them’s the facts 😂

Listening to:

What shatters the darkness.

young adult old soul magic realism writing escapril 2020

How many dawns have you witnessed? And I don’t mean days, but really, the slow ascension of the sun up the sky, the breaking of the first light that shatters the darkness, creating cracks in it for the light to pour into.

And for every dawn, how much darkness have you endured? How many times have you sat in the pitch-blackness of night until you couldn’t tell where it ended and where you began? How many times have you just had to wait, reconciling yourself with every excruciating minute because there was nothing else to do?

Nothing to do but wait.

Wait.

Wait.

And hope.

Hope that the dawn will come and trust that nothing lasts forever. Not the light, not the darkness.


Note: So, it’s April again and I am trying my hand once more at Escapril, an open poem/short fiction writing event that lasts all of April.

I hope you are all doing wonderfully and are keeping safe and enjoying many beautiful dawns.

A quiet life.

young adult old soul magic realism writing
Art by: Nathan W. Pyle

So much time seems to have passed — a whole year in the span of a few days. The kind of days that, before, I would throw around like spare change, like a clump of sand into the ocean.

I remember the first few days of confinement though, the thick anxiety coiling in me, twisting like a constrictor trying to swallow its meal. There were conversations with myself about death, to death, as I waited on someone else’s results to seal my fate and that of those around me. But I won’t tell of this in any more detail, not here at least. The world has enough anxiety to go on these days.

Instead, I want to tell you all about my first day of liberation. The feeling you get when you loosen your hair and feel the headache simply dissolve into waves, when you burst out of a stuffed room, when you let tears finally fall. A large clothes basket, heavy against my waist, tethered me to the balcony with a scent of freshness and Dutch lavender. All around, a surreal quietness had fallen on all things, the way the sun had. Not a shout from the neighbours, not a sound of feet moving or even the putter of a motorcycle that city-dwellers are usually so fond of. Instead, birdsong drizzled over silence, pooling over housetops. The wind blew, unbothered. Rising softly from the basket, the clothes-hill was cool and fragrant and for a moment, for all of life, I wanted to climb inside of it. Into that inviting cleanliness, that purity where lavender fields bloomed ceaselessly, uncaring of seasons and cycles.

I picked a sheet, bewitched instantly by the way it swelled, caught in the murmurs of the wind, the sounds of a quiet life.

What’s keeping me here? 

What if I were to just…let go? Would it be so easy? Would I finally go to that place where the birds all travel to at sunset, this place I have always known of, wondered about but have never reached?

The wind was pushing me from behind, lifting the back of my ample shirt. I was holding the sheet so it would not fly away, but what was holding me back? A job? Expectations? Fear?

I want to let it all go.

And I did.

I closed my eyes and let the sun warm my heart, banish the last few strands of anxiety wiggling about. I let the wind take me away, eyes closed, into the unknown, the unknown that leads straight home.


Note: It’s been a while! I hope you are all doing well and keeping safe during these frankly unsettling times. Where I am, we are under total lockdown, which means we can’t go out unless it’s to go to the hospital or the pharmacy. And we have a curfew. So it’s been a strange, long week. How’s the situation where you are?

Quote of the day

“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”

— Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Night escapes.

young adult old soul magic realism writing
I won’t call it photography, but well, here’s a moment I wanted to keep.

“Look at how bright that star is!”

A single orb of pure, incandescent light pierces through the dark-blue, velvety sky.

“It’s probably a planet. Venus, maybe.”

His eyes flicker upwards, leaving the road ahead to focus longly — for someone who is at the wheel — on maybe-Venus and its magnetic glow.

We are gliding swiftly down tresses of gleaming concrete on a deserted highway, the old red Honda espousing every curve of the road ahead, floating over every divot, coming to a smooth halt at every red light. The city lies low and far away from underneath us, at sea-level. This far up, there is no distinction between sky and sea, especially at night. Cruisers and cargo ships alike seem to be floating away into the night with their millions of little lights, like lanterns upon which children had made a wish.

All is calm. The night is quiet, with a few exceptions.

Smooth and unintrusive, music is leading a dance with silence. It soothes our harried minds, the wounds of everyday life, the painful boils of unrealised dreams. Notes and divine voices pour, honey-like, over the crackle and sizzle of tires pressing on bitumen, over the howl of the night breeze.

All of it, all of it is free.

The cool air, the freeway, even our time has been liberated from daily constraints. We’ve burst from a compact open office into the free night and we’re drunk on every gulp of air.

We do this often. A couple times a week. Distantly, as I stick my hand out to comb my fingers through the night, to let my fingers glide with the wind, I am aware that these are some of the moments I will look back on, one day. I will remember this feeling if nothing else. I’ll forget about Venus and the red Nissan and the floating cruise ships. But freedom like this, I can never forget. It is one of these little things which have imprinted on me. They have become a part of who I am. Experiencing them has been like discovering a part of me, like peering into the fog of my own mind and finding some new light shining there.


Listening to:

Distant summers.

young adult old soul magic realism zuoji
Art by: Zuoji

Balmy summer nights. Condensation trickling down glass bottles no sooner are they popped out into the heat. Glistening droplets sliding down, making the bottle slippery, one moment away from crashing onto the floor.

There is a warm, orange tone to life. The everyday scenes have changed to reflect that. Dripping mountains of coloured shaved ice, necks glowing with perspiration, a looseness in the limbs, the general air of summertime carefreeness and mouths that sigh, sigh, sigh: at the heat, the late buses, the sweet, good times.

I feel like I am living in a metaphor. That somehow, this moment is more than its apparent sum, hiding more meaning than I am able to decipher. Summers always feel a little far away somehow; I know there is a large part of them I cannot touch even as they unravel underneath my fingers in waves of summer tunes and late-night conversations. There is a depth I cannot feel, a susurration my ear is not attuned to. But I believe that life happens twice: once in the moment, and then again in retrospect. So I stay up nights not to understand, not to grasp and pursue this vast unknown expanding in my chest, but to experience, simply. To sigh at the cricket concerts, at the humidity sticking to my skin like a layer of cling film, at the gentle smile of a summer love.

Whatever meaning there is, whatever lesson or symbolism lays dormant in these moments, they will come to me when they need to.

Presently, I am filling up on the sticky sweetness of right-nows, enjoying my gentle metaphors, my odes to freedom and pink-peach summer skies.

 

Skinned knees.

young adult old soul magic realism writing

Trigger Warning: mentions of injuries, blood and corporal punishment.

At 23, I think I’ve passed the age for skinned knees.

And yet, here I am.

This whole week has been a slow journey back to childhood, no different to how it always is with me, right? I am always returning to these vestiges of the past, attracted to crumbling structures and their stories. Except it didn’t once feel like escaping, like I was swapping my adult responsibilities for memories of simpler days. Instead, it felt like returning to myself, to where it all started. The great wonders of childhood, the great truths in them.

You know, I skinned my right knee so badly as a kid that I still have a scar from that time. It is a raised bump, all scar tissue, that really stands out from the rest of the surrounding skin. To begin with, I already think knees are not very pretty (they’re necessary but awkward-looking). Now having this large scar tissue on my knee is no improvement.

And today, to add insult to injury, I skinned my knee again. As a 23-year old.

It was just a slight graze, lacking any fantastic blood loss. I fell off my own two feet as one does, smack down in the corner of the street. And as I was falling, all I could think was:

‘Wait, am I really falling here, now, in the middle of the street??’

You have to understand that not a minute before I was walking like an independent woman with a new Kate Spade bag (my sister’s, not mine) and the next I was getting up close and personal with dirty bitumen.

When I promised myself I would keep my inner child alive, skinned knees was not what I had in mind. Wonder, creativity, joy…That is what I meant. But as I was falling, I think I also fell back into childhood, the way Alice falls down the rabbit hole.

The burning sensation on my knees and palms, the light sting on my right knee, the trickle of blood and broken capillaries all brought me back to my formative years — not the ones where I was struck on the knuckles, where I emerged head bent, palms burning a fire that was nothing compared to my shame. No, it was not even those days when I futilely crammed mathematical formulae in my head, when I studied without learning much or recited print-outs on exam papers.

The world would want for this to be my formative years. The system dictates that this should be it: my turning points, my significant encounters and the course of all my personal rebirths. But it’s not. And this — this quiet discrepancy, this refusal of the world’s ways is the greatest of rebellions to me.

In this rebellion, in this choice, lies all of me.

No, as I fell into the rabbit hole, I found myself transported back to the gardens of my childhood, to free, blue skies and days that gave me all the liberty to follow the course of aeroplanes crossing the sky and birds taking flight to who knows where. It took me to quiet classes in the school library, encased between tall bookshelves made of golden wood where we would discuss the significance of Thomas Hardy’s “The Going” — hours that saw the unravelling, the rising of my being to new life. I returned to the heart of my own being, who I was before I needed to be anybody.

‘Like Ulysses returned to Ithaca’  my childhood self supplies. Oh yeah, that was a thing. I grew up adoring all sorts of mythologies. Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan… I spent my days wondering about them all.

It’s funny how I walked away from all this without knowing.

Inch by inch then all at once I left these quiet pleasures, these little, potent truths for a world that needed me to be someone else. An obedient student. A good employee.

A trickle of warm blood, a skinned knee like a blood sacrifice and here I am, back to where it all started.

Remember, remember…

Remember who you are and don’t let the world take it away from you again.

In the moments after the fall, after I dusted myself off and got back on the road, shaken, I spoke to the child in me again. Long conversations that did not require many words. Many things became obvious to me; the lies I had fed myself began to fall apart.

Now, I am almost laughing at the me who wrote that she was not sure she wanted to be a writer after all, the me who was still looking for her “thing”. Too afraid of not having what it takes, of the long road ahead, it was easier to look for something else, to not pin all hopes onto this one silly passion…It was more sensible, more reasonable to pursue something less whimsical, more stable, more profitable.

But if money didn’t matter, would I really be going to an office everyday from 9 to 5? If I knew I was dying, would I really be okay with living like this? Would I not want to formulate a plan, a getaway, an adventure?

But I am dying, aren’t I? Aren’t we all?

The real challenge in all of life, in this young adulthood stage is to conciliate the ephemerality of our lives, the suddenness of death with an existence that endures day by day and leaves us feeling secure, complacent in our momentary triumph over death.

‘So, wait, am I leaving my job?’

Not quite. But I am going to make space for adventure. I am going to dedicate time to doing the things I’ve always wanted to do. Like, I don’t know, write a book. Travel the world. And maybe I’ll quit my job too when it starts holding me down.

Who knows what’ll happen?

“That’s the best part,” the child I used to be says “You can walk out the door and have a million different things happen in the time it takes for you to return.”

Putting the stars back.

young adult old soul magic realism writing
Art by: Chootalks

There are times when I need to leave my brain behind.

And I don’t just mean my overthinking, my overly critical mind. But everything. All of my brain, save for practical functions like recognising danger.

I just need to air my mind out, to not carry around all my thoughts and experiences and history with me wherever I go. Because there’s this person I have to be — that other people count on me to be. It is a person I have chosen myself, as we all do when faced with the challenges Life poses us. We all reach difficult situations, turning points where we have to decide what kind of person to be.

Are we the kind of friend who leaves well enough alone when an upset friend assures us they are fine? Are we the kind of person who probes? Are we the kind of significant other who hates conflict, who would rather wait for tension to pass, unaddressed? Or are we the kind of person to meet it head on, ready to make or break? Would we rather be hurt or hurt someone else?

We carry all this and a million more choices in our every step. Because that is who we choose to be.

But I’ve discovered I need a break from my choices.

Whether it is as a friend, a sister, an employee or a young woman, a twenty-something. I need to remove all these skins, these layers of identity and air out my inner self. It does me so much good to be anonymous like this: to be just a girl with no worries or concerns for the day.

So I walk and walk and walk until I can’t feel my feet, until I’ve forgotten they were aching or even there. I go where I want to go. This Saturday, it was an unknown city — a passing place along the motorway where people stop for a while and then…vanish. It’s hard to believe anyone lives here. It feels like a reflection of a city: a wavering image in a puddle somewhere in another world. Maybe this is all a dream, a scene playing in someone else’s mind.

I walk and I explore, I poke my nose in the unknown, tiptoe past too reasonable boundaries set by anxiety.

It feels like opening a window in a closed-off room, like putting the stars back in the sky.