The real world.

young adult old soul magic realism writing
Art by: Unknown Artist

“Out of the frying pan into the fire” is an expression we use a lot where I’m from. Not without reason: there are times when you truly believe you have it bad until the situation gets significantly worse and you realise a bit late that there were nastier turns for life to take.

So from the all-too quiet, forgotten village, I have been moved (very much like a chess-piece) to a more strategic location: a city that is not a city but a machine in disguise. Its skyscrapers spit out fumes like a steam engine, in constant demand for more fuel. And the people like me break their backs shovelling in their time and youth and energy — the very marrow of their bones — into the inferno, keeping it burning and churning for everyone else.

This is the fire into which I’ve been tossed. This is the real world. A term I only see people use, by the way, when describing the unfairness of the world, the harshness of working conditions, the disheartening realities of the world at large. And the people who use this term uphold the very laws of the world they are imprisoned in. They accept the world as it is, their conditions as they are. It’s almost as if they do not wish to admit that this is the world they live in, that this is their life. Attempts to dismantle or discredit the system will be regarded as laziness, not-having-what-it-takes, weakness. And the weak are crushed into fine powder.

But alright, I might be exaggerating a tad here. Not everyone there is profoundly unhappy, not everyone is desperate for another world…But however you look at it, this monster-city is a labyrinth, a complex network of channels wherein circulate colonies upon colonies of ants, each knowing precisely where it needs to be at every hour of the day. All follow a schedule, a meticulous routine. And the machine is, in this way, well-oiled, its cogs turning day and night.

I once said I did not want to be a damsel in distress in some glass tower. Well, here I am. At least, for the first few days that’s what I was: knocked off track, disoriented, living  over again the same experience of being in a new place. I run into walls and people, not yet possessing the grace to juggle the many intricacies of this overwhelming (yet in so many crucial ways, underwhelming) city.

But at the same time, I am what I’ve been cultivating myself to be: efficient, productive. Though I cannot say I like it. See, that’s been me all my life. Very much able to fit in the system. I’ve been a straight A student, somehow managed to snag a first class and now I’m handling projects and clients very much on my own. Yet, just because I can cope with longer hours, a heavier workload, working at night and a doubled up commute time does not mean I want to. I sometimes get looks when I explain I do not want to be there, looks that say:

“What are you complaining for?”

Because I’m one of theirs, even if I’m too quiet at times, even if I don’t partake in all their rituals (formal clothes, chronic coffee-ingestion, water-cooler chats…). They cannot seem to comprehend why, if you were able to fit in, you would ever want to be somewhere else.

But I dream, I remember.

I am so far away from the anonymous village I was in before. Far away from its orchards and quietness, its one empty main road always sighing into the heat of the afternoon. And it seems it was in another life still that I was out on a balcony, gazing at the coastal village underneath. It feels like light-years ago, I was strolling by the beach during my lunch break, getting momentarily lost in its concrete roads interspersed with sand. And was it even in this life that I was sighing at The Place with the Flowers? That was someone else, in some other world.


Note: Hello WordPress 👋 Guess who’s backkkk

What do you do in your spare time?

magic realism writing young adult old soul kikkujo
Art by : Kikkujo

I woke up to this question today, a remnant of an already-forgotten dream, and it really rattled me.

The idea that there are hours that are valued less or more than others. Does this mean that there is Time that you can afford to waste? To lose like a spare cent or two that you drop on the street, shrugging it off as it is trampled, as it rolls away into the gutter?

Don’t get me wrong, this is something I’ve done countless times: I’ve scrolled my Time away on social media, fed it to algorithms and data structures, and Time has slipped from my fingers, uncaring.

But also, here’s the thing: I’ve loved wasting some of the time I’ve wasted. I have valued “spare” time more than I have other, valuable (working) time. But these are the kinds of societies we are heading towards or live in, already: ones where work is the single most important aspect of our lives, and all our Time is structured around it. Our lives are divided into “Work” and “Non-work” time, where we view everything else in relation to our jobs and take decisions accordingly: meeting up with old friends, dates, romantic relationships, going to an event, dying our hair, getting a piercing.

I don’t think human beings were made for this. For work that takes this big a chunk out of life, that overpowers all its other facets. I don’t think I am cut out for this (and yet, who really is? We are all thrown into it and we cope the best we can. Who really chooses this kind of lifestyle? No, most people just fall into it and never get back up).

Do we truly have “spare” time? Or is it instead that the value of our Time is being decided using criteria we had no choice over — instead imposed by “society”, itself a grey, hulking mass nobody knows the real identity of. There is no such thing to me as spare time. All Time matters. I could not “spare” even one bit of it. I will not let the world define which parts of my life matter. I will choose that for myself, thank you very much.

All Time is valuable, regardless of how you spend it, so long as it enriches your experience of existence.

But at the same time, do not fret (as I did, as I do) once you realise all moments will not be perfect, that you aren’t always able to make every moment worth it. It matters only that you try. That you seize what you can of Time and make it your own.

Unmemorable.

Young adult old soul magic realism writing
Still from the movie “The Darjeeling Limited”, directed by Wes Anderson.

A realisation: you do not actually fear the passage of time. Rather, you are afraid of the responsibility of Time. Time is like a child you have to raise, a blank canvas in your hands. What will you do with it? What will you make of it?

“You are not scared of Time passing by,” I tell myself, “you are scared of not enjoying it. You are scared that you won’t be able to make the most of it. Because you know Time never comes back.”

Tick and tock goes the clock, and your Time goes with it too. Another day has gone and your canvas is blank, still unmemorable. What will it be tomorrow? Time is precious, the day you are given is a treasured blank page— and Ah, how you fear this. How you fear ruining it.

You want to make something worthwhile, something grand and spectacular to prove your worth to others, to the world. So you think and think. You refine ideas, create worlds in your head that you can’t put to paper. You plan and you study and you intend so much.

Simultaneously though, Time is a train you have to catch and you are already running late. All your plans are weighing you down as you drag them around in stacks of luggage you hold too close to yourself. And as you’re running, you hit other people with them and you’re apologetic but you can’t look back. You really have to catch that train. You’re not a bad person, you just want to do well, you know? You just want life to go okay, good even.

You are running and planning at the same time, heaving all these plans until you realise if you are ever going to get anywhere, you are going to have to make that train. No matter the cost, you will have to jump aboard.

And, and the suitcases aren’t going to make it—this is something you only realise mid-jump as the luggage behind you threatens to bring you down, to pull you with gravity and bury you in their weight.

You just have to let go, even as you dig your fingers into the suitcases, your suitcases, even as you break your nails trying to hold on to them.

And then you’re on board finally, but now you have no plans left but the rudimentary ones that you started out with.

And that’s okay. That’s fine. You’ll figure it out.

Doing the thing anyway.

young adult old soul magic realism writing

A list of things I have done but have been unable to write about:

  • Dyed my hair purple
  • Attended a writing workshop
  • Signed up for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award
  • Attended a good friend’s wedding

Some, more than others, were impulse decisions. Eff-it moments when I decided my fears didn’t matter, recognising somewhere that I would be more myself once I had discarded them, because my fears aren’t necessarily me. Not when they stop me from doing what I really want.

So, hey, purple hair. Writing workshop. Volunteering every Saturday night with a group of young people I don’t really know. Yay.

Needless to say, I regret it all at least once a week.

In the mirror I see copper-brown strands, the purple long washed-away. I tug at it self-consciously and wish my hair could be all black again. Every Saturday evening, I am quietly quivering at the notion of having to interact with a group of young people who are all friends, whilst I am a new addition.

I’m always wishing I hadn’t done any of it. Because after my one moment of foolish bravery is over, my fears are back at my side again, nagging. My anxiety finds something to keep me up at night, to convince me that I am wrong to not be panicking.

Still, I am not dyeing my hair black. I even catch myself liking the glint of the sun on these select light-brown strands of hair.

Still, I am calling every Saturday to know where the group is meeting up. And when one homeless person gushes about how the macaroni we served were the best he’s ever had, or when another takes some for his two daughters, I’m happy I was there to help.

My fear wishes I hadn’t done any of it. But I, I keep doing it anyway. I keep moving forward, and discarding fear like yesterday’s fashion. I regret and complain and most of all, I know better. I understand that who I want to be takes precedence over any anxiety I might have. My time is limited, am I really going to spend it all cowering?


Quote of the day : 

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

—Mary Schmich

 

Smoking

“I am not without my own vices; I, too, have my preferred poisons.”

eizinsuzuki
Art by Eizin Suzuki

Just breathing is not enough sometimes.

When the weight of all the worlds is crushed up against your spine, tightly pressed into your lungs, it is never quite enough. Every now and then, I take breaks just to breathe. Deeply, without some misplaced fear of air ever running out.

Meanwhile, some of the people I work with take moments out of the day to smoke, talking about things I can only guess at. Inexplicably, and though I loathe the smell of cigarettes with thinly-veiled passion, I cannot help but feel that maybe people have quite deep conversations over a lit cigarette. On a balcony that quietly overlooks the town and its ocean view (and its waters you can even see glittering from afar), with the sound of the air-conditioners humming in the background to mask the silence, how can you only talk about the weather? As you share in the experience of a favoured kind of poison, how do you not bond? Non-smokers like me do not understand. I don’t think they —we—can. This trade with death—slow, blissful poison that fills your lungs, that settles your restless, drifting, wandering thoughts, for a few years off your life.

An onlooker as I have been most of my life, I watch, from afar, how chests expand and eyes close in unveiled bliss. I follow the trail of relief that comes with the exhale, deep from the lungs, ascending through the throat and liberated through open lips. The relief is so profound, so real. Where the smoke disperses into the atmosphere, its comforts remain. It makes me feel a little like a child. As though one day, someone will look closely and uncover the deceit, and tell me I don’t belong on a balcony with men who are smoking. I’m not sure if that would be a relief or not. I am slowly transitioning into a hybrid of an adult and an evergreen child, I think. Always the late bloomer. And never quite blooming the right way; I’ve always grown a little sideways, a little crooked.

Even so, I ask myself : during the winter days when the sky pinkens far too soon, in the silence between two drags of smoke (ironically so grounding), what do you say ? Even then, even when you say nothing, there is something different about the atmosphere. As though a visible peace has settled, and an invitation for deeper questions, more meaningful conversations, confessions even, is given. I think smoking probably feels a little like this : As though you were a kite that had its string cut before, and were being blown away into oblivion, but the smoke is what reels you back bit by bit to calmer skies.

And yet, I am not a smoker. So for lack of a cigarette between my fingers, I make my way to the balcony where the smell of tobacco lingers still, clinging to the walls in a way the wind could never take away. And in spite of the smell, of the layers of smoking breaks stuck to the air, I breathe in deeply. Taking steadying, shuddering breaths, concentrating instead on the faint yet persistent smell of iodine perpetually tickling my nose. A town with an ocean view, indeed. Really, it is not nicotine I crave. For lack of a cigarette and someone to smoke with, my mind reels back to quiet days and the view from another window.

I am not without my own vices; I, too, have my preferred poisons.

I remember my eyes sweeping across the view outside that window, cracked open to let the sunlight filter in. And I thought : “How bright and warm that light is.” But then you talked, and your eyes lit up, widened, poured light on the things your vision touched, as though what lay behind your eyes, beneath your skin was something akin to the sun, and it, too, filtered through the blinds that ironically, would be your eyes. And the light of the sun touched the inner corner of your eye, where the most delicate, most golden light creased, shimmered in the littlest nook between your eye and nose.

But unlike cigarette smoke, when the vision disperses, it leaves behind no comforts, no ashes. No illusion of warmth to hold onto. I am left cold, like a flickering candle in a damp room.

Dreaming is a slow poison, too, you have taught me.


Listening to :

A Thousand Little Suns

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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.

 

 

 

Luminescence

“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.”

heikala
Art by : Heikala 

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.


Listening to :