As surely as the water must meet the shore, and the seed must rise from itself to greet the sun — as surely as our destinies are written in the stars, this was ineludible.
That I should struggle against my restraints, try to dislodge myself from the mould of pre-made decisions. It was meant to happen. It was either this, or a life like drawn-out death. A death that would look like success but never feel like it. What is success if you’ve lost your spark? What is success if your most violent passions, the ones lusting for fulfillment, have dulled into what-ifs that punctuate the daily routine? Days that are different, surely, but all look the same… What is a life if April 23rd and November 16th are one and the same?
It is no easy thing to seek freedom.
How much simpler would it be to sit back in life and bear the drudgery, the grating injustice and follow the path? The congratulations would have flown in, drowned me. The awe and the envy would have made it all utterly delightful.
“So young, to have reached this far at this age?”
“How did she do it?”
Like expensive cocktails, I would have sipped on these words delicately…
Even now, I am still drawn, hypnotised by the path, like a fly to the light. How desirable. How endlessly pleasant to knock yourself out for the day, and emerge after-hours and in the weekends? How delicious would it be to fall in the ranks and make no hard decisions, to flow like water in a stream.
It’s madness, a form of insanity to leave that safe mould.
“Who are you?” is never an easy question to answer.
I mean, how do I define myself beyond these fill-in-the-blank questions, beyond a selection of names, numbers and practical facts? How do I explain that who I am now is not who I was a minute ago, and yet there are parts of me still rooted in the days of childhood, the dawn of my life? There is no way to explain all the times my skin has cracked apart and the light has mended it with a golden thread. How can I say that I have been dipped into the darkness so much so that its stain remains; that I have loved as ardently as I have lost?
Who are you?
It takes a lifetime of soul-searching for some people to find out; journey upon journey through the world and through themselves. Some never do. Others still, drift in life, unaware. Yet, at times, it is quite by accident that the human essence bleeds out. In casual conversation, during middling days, boring car journeys as we experience time in the most unexceptional ways.
It was maybe a year ago now (and yet with everything that has happened, it seems so distant…). We were strolling around a deserted mall that Sunday afternoon. You could say that I was with “the girls” although most, if not all of us would object to calling each other that. We are not that to one another. I have another group of friends who are “the girls”, who I will go on dates with to trendy cafés, with whom I can be a little daring when it pleases me. But this group and I are like childhood friends. The fact that we have grown up together, seen each other everyday for 7 formative years, creates a bond that cannot be erased. However much we may lack a natural connection, there is something underlying, a common thread of Time that ties us all together. It’s hard to forget. To let go, because in so doing, we cut ties with parts of ourselves, the ones that reside in others. So we are not “the girls” to one another — we do not carelessly hang off of each other or exchange makeup tips; but we are friends. This is a label we hang onto quite possessively, protecting it from Time, distance and changes in who we are as people. We are not the girls we used to be. We do not slot as comfortably into each other, cannot bounce off the same experiences or share the same crucial opinions anymore. The conversation doesn’t flow as smoothly and we sometimes resort to small talk to fill in the gaps. They have grown so different from the 13, 16 and even 18 year olds I once knew. But it doesn’t matter. Some part of me recognises some part of them. That is enough.
So that drowsy Sunday, as afternoon was melting into evening, we roamed about an abandoned mall in a coastal village, still too full from the buffet lunch to form words.
It seems a miracle now, since I went back several times and never saw her again, but there was a woman with a jewelry stall in one of the building’s wings. She was probably one of these woman entrepreneurs, who have a skill and who are trying to develop it into a business. This could explain why she was there, alone, on a Sunday afternoon, and probably why I never saw her again. It’s a shame, because the jewelry she sold was just beautiful. Brooches, pendants, bright bracelets, earrings, shell necklaces and other kinds of pretty trinkets were all laid out on a table.
So, remember that part when I said we weren’t “the girls”? Well…we do love to accessorise.
I didn’t have any particular intention to buy anything; I’m not much of a shopper. A. and M. were picking out bracelets and the lady, previously overcome with ennui, was eager now to tend to 1,2,3,4,5,6! 6 young women flocked around her stall. The jewelry was pretty, in that way only simple things are. Dainty as a snowflake, light as a grain of sand.
And that’s when it happened. When some essential part of me showed itself without me knowing. I was eying the pendants and their myriad designs: stars, hearts, moons, circles, triangles, the tree of life… I was quite partial to the ocean themes; all these delicate pieces of metallurgy were gleaming like treasure from the sea. My heart was hesitating between two of these pendants. “Why not have both?” is an option I, for some reason, did not seriously consider. Back then, I was still on the fence about many things in my life.
“Anchor?” I asked, bringing it to the hollow of my neck, “or shipwheel?”
“Whichever one you like best.” M. replied.
“Yeah!” cheered A.
Let it not be said that my friends are not supportive. Now, helpful is a whole other thing. But supportive, still.
Y. still had this sort of aloofness about her but volunteered her opinion anyway, which goes a long way to show how she’s changed, actually. Before, she didn’t care to care for more people than she already did. Now there’s an opening for vulnerability, carved by the wounds of life. She’s softer now, but also a little worn out. Her answer didn’t much help,though.
“Whichever one you want. Take both, actually, if you like them both equally.”
Y. has always been the logical one.
But in my head, it was this dilemma. I wanted so much to decide, to not just choose the easy route by buying both (and yet, what’s so wrong with taking the easy way sometimes? Why does everything have to be complicated, so labour-intensive?). There were so many decisions I was not making in my personal life, and I wanted to get this trivial one right. So which one did I just have to have? Which could I bear to leave behind?
“Shipwheel. I want the shipwheel.”
And that was it: shipwheel. Nothing more, nothing less.
Like the cheesiest person, I wore this shipwheel pendant with my sailboats and shipwheel dress for far too long.
But why all this talk about an old necklace all of a sudden? Well, now this necklace lays in my hand, its clasp broken. I have been decluttering (again) and finding it has made me realise a lot of things about myself and the year that has passed.
Shipweels or anchors?
Do you want to explore and risk yourself out there? Or do you want to settle here, content but mostly unchanged? Back then, without even knowing it was a question, I had already chosen an answer. I was just a girl buying a necklace, how was I to know?
The symbolism I could not grasp then is not lost on me now. The fact that I ever stopped wearing it already says something. But so does the fact that I’ve found it again now, as I am rising back to myself. Still, fittingly, the clasp is broken and I wonder what it means for me.
I am unsure when it is that I will be at the wheel again. But I look at this pendant and somehow, I know who I am. I am the kind of person who chooses a shipwheel over an anchor, who fears stillness more than adventure.
Note: Behold now, the (not so) mighty shipwheel necklace I have just dedicated 1200+ words and several hours to. It has lost some of its lustre but should be good after some polishing and a new chain! Also, I’m curious to know, have you had any small moments like these, which later turned out to be huge life realisations? I’m always worried it’s just me 😂
At least once in your life, do something truly great. Something greater than you.
This thought came to disrupt my concentration, like a grain of sand in a well-oiled machine.I had been typing away an article about new tile collections (not as boring as it sounds) when it happened. So ensconced I was in my seat, in my thoughts and combination of words that it did not seem possible that this had come from me.
Yet left and right, everyone was as sucked into their own screens as I was.
It dawned on me then what caused it. All the generous amount of time I had been spending slowly, intentionally was reaping its fruits : creativity, disruption.
Doing “nothing” and being alone lets the mind wander. Instead of only exposing the mind to others’ ideas, you let the ones from your own sprout. They grow in silence until, one day out of the blue, their tender leaves tickle your clouds of thoughts and startle you awake.
“For even one time in your life,” some part of my brain pressed on, “see how far you can go for no other reason than to just know. Journey all the way to your last limit and discover, uncover new and old things about you. Push your small clay body to its earthly limits, show the universe what you’re made of. Don’t you want to experience even once the feeling of being the ultimate form you can be? What’s the point of being given a life if once at least, you don’t live it above and beyond the average? Set out to conquer yourself, to overcome the version of you that you are now!”
Be better, burn, burn in the pursuit of a nameless truth. Burn from passion, and do not ever satisfy yourself with the safety of a lukewarm life.
The rumble of the air conditioner is the backdrop to all my office days, in the very same way the rustling leaves are.
But today, the absence of clicking sounds, of fingers tapping furiously at keyboards is the guiltiest noise. The coffee machine does not guzzle, is silent, the water in the dispenser has not changed levels since half the day. Not a ring of the phone, not a knock on the door. Stillness grows like moss in our office.
We all sit complicit in the lie of productivity, hiding behind computer screens that shield our ennui. We’re scouring the ocean floor of social media for depth, on the lookout for fresh news, like a young colourful fish darting in a bareland, an over-exploited area. We drown in shallow waters, racking up skeletal remains of news of interest. Like sand scooped in our palm that is washed away by the currents, and grabbed again, washed away again and again and again.
All of us, bosses and employees alike, forced into unspoken norms, bound by contracts we owe ourselves and each other. If only I could just walk out that door. But I have to be doing nothing much in this specific 25 squared meters of space.
I wonder why any one of us stays. Because we “have” to. Do we, though? Will the world really miss us for a day? Will it not keep on spinning if we are not in that office, not occupying that exact point on the world map?
Years back, I found a video in some forgotten corner of the internet. In it, a man driving a taxi (sponsored by some company) drove around a city packed with commuters, winding between the routines and everyday lives of millions of people. When the taxi was hailed, the driver would ask the people one question, something along the lines of :
“Do you want to get out of here? If you want, we could go on an adventure or I can take you to work.”
At this point, with all the cameras rolling, it had become clear it was no joke, no threat. Yet so many people said no. Perfectly sensible reasons, excuses spilled from their lips (“But I have to go to work”, “Not today, sorry”), regret shone in some of their eyes, and the man drove them to work. And then there were the few who said yes, who, throwing caution to the wind, jumped in. There were no have-to’s, all expectations had been deemed irrelevant.
And the man drove them to the ocean, to the deserts. Arms flailed in joy from the open roof of the taxi, people squealed at the scenery, quietly texting away that they were sick and could not come in to work.
I am not trying to turn this into an absolute. I do not think that the people who turned out the offer were wrong. Not all of them, I’m sure. Some must really have had important projects to deliver, people counting on them to do their work. But some people were just sticking to their routines. To the idea that they have to do any one thing. That they are bound, imprisoned by contracts.
All these years, I silently promised myself that I should not become that kind of a person. I always have a choice. I do not have to stay. I do not have to live a life of convenience and have-to’s. I do not have to give in. I am free to leave, though the price may be high. But in no way will I allow myself to think that I have sold my freedom. I do not have to, I do not have to. I choose to. I always have a choice, though the price to pay for it may be high, exorbitant for some, too much for others.
But it’s always there.
Today I choose to stay. I choose to write instead of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling on social media. I do not feel bad about it, because I chose it. With all the consequences attached to that choice, I take responsibility for the way I live my time. No one has a greater claim on it than I do.
Note : A few times out of a month or two, there will be slow days at work. Days when I have completed my work in advance and stretch the few tasks I have left over several hours. In between, I fill the gaps with some writing, discovering new music, delving into old feelings. It’s a world of its own.
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.
“Even the fish are trapped in a photograph, stuck in a time loop, in the moment before —before the adrenaline pumps, before life happens. And now, here they are. Trapped in a photograph forever, weighed down by dust bunnies.”
Art by: Josan Gonzalez
I went to the seamstress’s workshop today, wearing the patterned dress I wear too much already. But it’s navy blue and speckled with peach ship wheels and tan sailboats. And as though in the most perfect of worlds, even the golden zipper looks like a coral formation. I meandered away into the city, watched everyone else live their lives for a moment, reaching the quieter alleyways until, there it was, the workshop. Tucked away in a more obscure part of town, slotted in between houses coated in a film of smog.
It is not, by any means, a cheery workshop. Rolls of fabric leaning against the dull, not-so-white walls, cutoffs and stray threads discarded in heaps on the grimy tiled floor. Everything —the old, broken down sewing machines, the boxes and power outlets, even the water bottle— looks worse for wear.
Everything is so stagnant; it looks as though nothing has really moved in years. In my sleep-deprived state, I can almost visualise throwing the bottle in the air and the water not moving one bit. Even more painful to watch? The large A3 photograph that must once have been a bit beautiful. It’s all blue waters and yellow fish trying to break the surface, to emerge in a dazzling spray of ocean water into the blueness of the sky. But even that is frozen. Even the fish are trapped in a photograph, stuck in a time loop, in the moment before —before the adrenaline pumps, before life happens. And now, here they are. Trapped in a photograph forever, weighed down by dust bunnies.
It’s the kind of place you hate as a kid.
Because Time stands still, nothing moves, not even a wave of the imagination. But now, now that I am this…this adult who fears the passing of time…I don’t hate it. It feels like a saving point in a video game, like a place where nothing ever happens, where you could stay for a long while, knowing that you’ll be safe from the world, knowing that nothing will touch you. Maybe that’s why people choose lives like these. It’s unmoving, it’s safe.
But her, the seamstress, she’s not like that. She wears colours, purples and reds and oranges, and bangles that clink when she moves. She shows off gleaming dark ebony skin, her rotund arms and shoulders gleaming under the artificial light. There is just something about her. Maybe it is that she is young, probably around 27.
She isn’t done with the dress yet, which should have been done yesterday. So now, I have to wait.
I sit down on a stool, not-so-white and worn around the edges. It feels out of time. As though the curse of slow time and unmovingness was befalling me too. The sailboats and ship wheels on my dress are no longer moving. I am, after all, stagnant. So I tap my foot against the tile to keep the curse at bay, to prevent the dust from settling on me. Else I feel like I will be here forever, like her.
I watch her work from the corner of my eye — drat you, shyness— taken in a little by the whirring of the machine, the repetitive stabbing of the needle into the plum rose of my mother’s dress.
She must have a life, a brilliant (also, rude) part of my brain offers. She has already mentioned a mother. Perhaps she’s here because she’s waiting. Because she has to be safe for a while. Perhaps she’s waiting for someone, a fiancé who is a sailor (could that explain the photograph?) who is far away, burning under the sun, salt drying on his skin. Maybe she has plans to leave it all behind, this cursed workshop, the mountains of dust and cloth and disappear one day. Only, I would never know she was out, living in a coastal town in some other, faraway country, watching seabirds and ships, sewing uniforms and selling flowers on the side, smiling as she sees the ship bringing him back home.
But I’ll never know for sure, because I never ask.
It may all well be a lie. Maybe she will stay here forever. Maybe that’s why I don’t ask.
But now the dress is done and I’m still a bit of a child after all, so I run away, the dress and the sailboats and ship wheels fluttering in the wind.
“..Imagine an ocean in the backyard. Imagine waking up to the gentle swoosh of the tide, the smell of salt, fresh and tingling your nostrils. But oh, every ocean has an ocean breeze, this cold spray that wets your skin, tickling the life and laughter back into you.”
Gif from: organicst.tumblr.com
These are seeds, just seeds, and yet why do I feel as though if I tossed them in the backyard, a whole ocean would grow from them?
In this concrete jungle of a neighbourhood, where grey houses and apartments sprout up from nowhere with their dust and drills, hiding the sky and clouds from view —imagine an ocean in the backyard. Imagine waking up to the gentle swoosh of the tide, the smell of salt, fresh and tingling your nostrils. But oh, every ocean has an ocean breeze, this cold spray that wets your skin, tickling the life and laughter back into you.
And the adventures…imagine the adventures. Anything from treasure-seeking to unwinding in a fold-back chair, toes in the sand and a good book in hand. But there would also be a horizon, all oceans have them and, and the stars that glitter in the night, their light reflecting off the water that never stills. And the shells, the polished rocks, even the green, gooey algae, the —
Maybe it doesn’t have to be an ocean, maybe just the sea or a river. A brook or a rivulet. Even a leaky faucet or a can of seeds that are just the right shade of blue.
Sometimes, I think that all you need in life is Adventure, and people to share it with.
Because there are some days when you don’t need to have much. Some good food, some music, some smiles. The view that unrolls like a film reel as you stare out of the car window, nodding your head at the music filling the space around, relishing in the thought of : “This is my youth. This is how I am spending my most beautiful years.”
And already, the moment seems like a perfect memory, like a photograph that’s already yellowing, already worn at the edges from pulling it out of the album so much. It is one of those moments that are so beautiful that you already feel nostalgic about them and they aren’t even over yet.
So you try to hold back all the sands of Time that sift through your hand, because you’re so scared. Because good times don’t happen often. Because happiness never lasts too long, never long enough. Because you don’t know any better than to overthink anything good that happens to you. Because there has to be something. It can’t be that easy. It can’t be that good.
But you cannot stop Time…
You cannot stop Time, but you can enjoy it.
You try to grip onto the sands of Time so firmly that you do not know how pleasant it can be to just stop and feel it run through your fingers.
It is, as you may have guessed, easy to say but much more complicated to put in practice. Living in the moment, before being the simplest thing, requires so much effort.
So, like me, you try to anchor the memory, not for always, no, you know better now, but for one moment, just one fleeting instant, one ephemeral stretch of time. So you take out a camera, snap a photo. You immortalise a moment, a mood, an age, a version of you, a picture of happiness. And then you go back to enjoying the feel of Time as it slips through your fingers, as the evening sun on your face plays out into the colours of the setting sun.