Escapist.

writing young adult old soul magic realism james fenner
Art by: James Fenner

And now, the truth I have been unwilling to admit to myself: I am escaping. Sentenced to unexciting realities, my mind cooks up elaborate scenarios, my body busies itself in all ways it can think of.

I am living for dreams that have yet to be, trading the certainty of “now” for the maybes of tomorrow. I know that no matter how much I plan, there is always so much that is left in the air, so much I cannot control. These doubts infiltrate my small, ordinary day and grow large and looming until they fill up my breathing space and the only way away from them is distraction.

Daydreaming, entertaining the idea of smoking, putting music on every time silence stretches or boredom reaches to the bottom of my soul, risking myself in brazen speech, scrolling through social media, snacking on things I don’t even want to eat, texting “people”… All things I’ve done or attempted in an effort to escape from life, actions very much like the moments when, as a child, I would plug my fingers in my ear and go “Lalalalalalalala, I can’t hear you!” at the world.

So I’ve come to abhor silence; these thoughts only echo louder in it. Instead of facing them, I fill every moment of idleness with something else. I drown out my thoughts in loud music, I forget about my troubles through conversations, I escape reality with all the swiftness of a gazelle being chased by a lioness. This is nothing new, it is something I’ve always done. I just thought I was past it. That I had harnessed this proclivity to escape into something beautiful that I could use at will. But I am reminded that this is what it looks like when I mess up: I run away, I hide, I escape. All that’s left to do now is to understand, to look at the wreckage left of these few months and examine them without trying to criticise.

An imaginary journey.

young adult old soul magic realism
Art by @lilmisch

Do you ever feel that this life is not really yours?

I have this deep, unsettling conviction sometimes that one day I will wake up, and it will all have been a dream.

I must have wandered off one late summer day, probably during a family picnic at the beach. Trying —without knowing— to touch a moment of infinity, to connect to the strange energy swirling inside of me. I tried to talk to the ocean, to understand the hidden language behind its ebb and flow, and the eons-old story it tells.

“Tell me what you know about the stars.” I whispered.

I let the washed up shells guide my steps, imagined waking up within one of them, bathed in a pinkish glow. All around me, the world was telling a story and I was listening. To the winds that told me where they go to rest, to the rocks that have only ever felt life, to the sands that murmured stories of when they were corals settled deep in the ocean.

I must have wandered so far as to get utterly lost. But I was unaware. Too taken by the secret magic of the world to notice. I wandered for years following that inner light, only looking up much later, far away from the beach, from any sounds of laughter, from any comfort of family.

And ever since, I’ve been trying to find my way back. Have been trying to connect to that same energy from that day on the beach, many summers ago, in the hopes that it will take me back.

So far, I have reached a desert, where seashells have been swapped for fennecs and other desert dwellers. The desert sand tells a different story : one of dunes and unfathomable mysteries buried in its breast. And again, losing a few years, I listen.

Once or twice, I think I collapsed from heatstroke. And in between my barely open eyelids, I glimpsed the beach from another world, another time. The backs of the people I love are turned to me, and even though I’m so near, they can’t see me, they don’t even know I’m gone. Or that I will be gone.

But then, on the third time, I wake up.

All the years I’ve lived in the desert dissolve into dust; they were never real. That is how life feels some days. An imaginary journey, something I was too young to embark on, something too dangerous. I’m constantly straying from the things that brought me warmth and comfort, and my whole life is spent seeking that lost haven, never knowing whether I will find it.


Note : Did that even make sense? 😂 I don’t know, but it’s good to be back posting.

Pockets of calm.

Young Adult Old Soul Writing Magic Realism

It all starts with this, my day.

A single piece of fabric, pure white and delicate, so light I barely feel it on the skin of my fingers.

All the grey bleariness of the morning evaporates before it. In a blink, the pounding headache, damp heat and the heavy atmosphere are gone, and there only remains this fragile moment, hanging by a thread.

I am aware that distantly (and yet so near), the city—no, the capital—is huffing and puffing clouds of smoke and heat. It is a boiler room, a steam engine for the whole country. It never stops, constantly pumping, whistling, pushing forward. Always loud.

And yet here we are, in a pocket of calm.

A self-contained bubble, so frail in a city this tough and rough. Here is nothing more, nothing less than a fabrics shop. Its facade is worse for wear, sticky with a light film of grey, as everyplace else in the city.

But inside, the very air is different.

It is cool and light, the way the atmosphere feels like after it has finally rained. Not a particle of dust floats in that air, despite how likely that would be given the endless rolls of fabrics lining the walls. But oh, there’s glitter even in between the cracks in the tiles, shining mischievously atop the keys of an old cash register.

“Welcome! What can I help you with today?”

I can hear the smile in that old voice, raspy and a little breathless. It is a warm voice, one that has told countless stories to many a grandchild.

The shop-owner is an old man with greying hair and a thick beard and whose nose is just a little off-centre, crooked to the left. There is something about him that is so genial, so authentic you could never fake it.

And my words simply unravel from my tongue. How I, we, are here in search of fabric for wedding dresses. The notion is still so novel, so incongruous to me, that in the age of fast-food and fast-fashion, there are still random, normal people going to dressmakers and textile shops to construct an entire outfit from scraps. And that today, one of those people is me.

I think he senses my hesitancy, the slight inexperience in my requests.

“Right this way,” he smiles and extends his arm to a whole new area of the shop. And here are lace, embroidery, flowers bursting out of fabric, tulle in all shades, satin and silk and countless others I cannot name.

“Your mother,” he says conspiratorially “used to come here every week with her mother and two sisters back in the day ! They wouldn’t leave until they had found the exact matching shade of fabric they were looking for.”

From behind me, light giggles emerge. I can only imagine the very same sounds had echoed in this old shop some 20, 25 years ago.

“Every week, don’t believe her if she says otherwise!”

Already, large rolls of fabric are descending on the glass counter. Fingers are dancing over champagne-coloured silk. The whole counter is overcome, cascading with 5 different shades of pink from 5 giant rolls of cloth. And he is already taking out more from over his head, huge swathes of cloth taller than he even is. With ease and rapid precision, he is matching lace and silk, suggesting designs and rejecting others.

“Don’t take satin for this one, it doesn’t fall as nicely on the figure.” Or “Oh, look at this. Look at this, a full ankle-length dress made out of this.”

There are hearts in his eyes when he speaks, reverence in the way he approaches the fabric, the idea. He is someone who sees that the creative process begins with him, and so he gives it his all.

Already, my mother, aunt and sisters are fluttering about me, debating over choices.

That’s when I take a moment to slip away, to bask in the peace, the utter simplicity of this place. It is so removed from everything I know of the city, it is slow and not entirely practical. It is artful, a place where fantasy grows wings, where eyes catch on glistening cascades of golden cloth and weave daydreams of full skirts sweeping ballroom floors. It is a place so necessary, I realise. A safe-place for creation, for dreams which usually fall dead like butterflies in the smog of the city. But here they flutter timidly, then they soar.

As indecision stops the quiet hum of conversation, I waltz (Yes, yes) back in to help. Unhelpfully, I simply add in my own very high dosage of indecision and point to other rolls of fabric above my head. The poor old shop-owner already has 12 different rolls of fabric wrapped over and around him as it is, and I have no idea how to ask him to get some more down.

Then one, two, three sons appear.

All with the same slightly off-centre nose, the same gentle kindness. The youngest is still trying to prove himself to his older brothers, you can see. They seem to be having the time of their lives teasing him as he speaks to us, a group of 5 women. The little one  fumbles a little, blushes, stumbles through his sentences. But his hands never once flinch as his sharp scissors descend down a blush pink piece of silk, as he folds it smoothly, squarely into a brown bag.

Much of the morning passes by in a back and forth of ideas, some lengthily debated upon, others cast aside, a few coveted, dreamed of, awed at. Slowly but surely, all hearts fall for some dreamy fabric or other, even mine. My heart stutters at some muted soie sauvage or wild silk, a delightful shade of ocean green. And to match it, lace of the same tone, run through by waves of white and cream and pale blue.

You’re wearing the ocean in a dress, my mind whispers. Tomboyish though I am, I can already feel the long skirt dancing in wavelets around me as I move, can hear its soft rustle like the gentle crash of waves on the shore. It is so light too, it gives me that feeling, the feeling when I lie down in the ocean, arms and legs splayed out, and let the gentle waves carry away all my worries.

“So much for lilac.” My mother teases.

Yes, so much for lilac. My mother knows me, she does. She knows there are plans in the making, wheels turning, winds changing, sails billowing.

But for now, we speak of lilac and bridesmaids and weddings. We speak of dropping anchors, broach lightly on setting sail to new horizons, both my bride-to-be sister and I.

There is something about being here, where my mother used to shop years ago, when she was the same age I am now that touches me profoundly. There is this sharing, this bonding. Like linking the past and the present, the future. It is like I have been introduced to the girl my mother was when she was my age.

It is cyclical too, I realise.

The shop-owner’s earlier words come to me now, as we are ready to leave :

“So, when is your mother going to come pay my shop a visit?”

He had been talking to my mother, reminiscing about the old times.

A hush fell over their formerly lively conversation then. And quietly, the words, tinted with a sadness that cannot ever be washed away, came out.

Yes, today I am here with my mother the way she was with her mother back in the day. Next time I come here, I am not so certain what kind of realities I will bring with me, which griefs and happinesses I will carry in my heart.

We are dropping anchors and setting sail, always.

Before we leave, I ask the shop-owner about the opening hours, because I am learning that I may need more fabric eventually for the dress.

“What time do I close? Oh, as soon as the cash register’s full!”

With a laugh and brown bags full of fabrics and secrets, we leave, losing ourselves to the city.


Listening to :

 

London time.

MVIMG_20181230_172332.jpg

London has been all foggy breaths and muddled half-thoughts to me. No time to think, to overthink in the vastness of this old city. So caught in the old brick houses and the architecture of tens of centuries I am.

I do not think of Time here. Not a little, not at all. In all truth, even Big Ben is under renovation and really, how symbolic is that. The idea that there is no Time at all, and if there ever was, then it has stopped. Time is under construction in my cold hands, trembling lightly underneath dark gloves. Time is what I make of it, it is : christmas lights, people kissing under mistletoe, Westminster abbey in all its startling beauty, Richard Cœur de Lion, fish and chips, hummus and midnight adventures underground, Covent garden, smiles and awe.

Together, London and I unravel to each other. I discover her ancestral arteries and she lights up the doors to my consciousness.

I am running on London time now, and it is no time at all.


Note : Happy new year everyone!

Writers who do not read

” One last time, like a lover at the train station, I will bury my nose in the heart of the pages, deeply inhale the smell of books : ink and paper mixed with the smell of slow adventures and home.”

unknownart
Art by : Unknown

I am a bad writer because I do not read. Not enough anyway; not nearly enough.

I remember once during university, a girl from the same journalism course interviewed a writer, a model/photographer who was, by all means, not a bad person at all. He had this sort of effortless confidence about him, and was a quite decent photographer, too. He was popular and not unkind, from what I could tell. And so, as he was working towards getting a book published, he declared, with all the confidence of a well-loved model/photographer who would have a following no matter what, that he did not read.

“I’m lazy,” he said “but that’s not why I don’t read. There are people who find an escape in books, I want to create those escape routes.”

As I look back at my own experiences reading books, I have to say I can’t quite agree with that. I do not want to. You can imagine, in a lecture room full of journalism students (even those who specialised in the more technical aspects like filming, or video-editing) that this did not go down very well. Our professor was quite scandalised. If he’d had a pearl necklace, I can tell you he would have clutched it with one hand, briskly waving a pocket fan with the other, thoroughly vexed.

But I feel like if you want to create a refuge, you must know what it means to be in one, first. To crave it, to stumble and falter through life looking for that warm orange glow without really knowing that you are, and to finally find it, not even understanding how wonderful it is that you have. Even if it is temporary, even if the book ends. It is important to feel that for one moment, you have been found. Seen, for what you truly are.

That’s also why I want to read. So that I can plunge into books that feel like pieces of myself scattered in someone else’s brain. To be able to read sentences once, twice, ten times over, and still feel like I am being stabbed by the words, so shocking, so resonating with some kind of inner truth they are. Because I want to glide down heaps of pages in the blink of an eye, carried by the smooth writing, the intrinsic flow of ideas, the way they unravel and bloom and die.

Like I’ve done numerous (not yet countless) times before, I want to have long, silent conversations with books, with the stories they tell. I want to feel wounded as a figment of someone’s imagination is struck by the same fate as I. And afterwards, I will draw patterns on the cover, tracing over the embossed lettering with the very tips of my fingers. One last time, like a lover at the train station, I will bury my nose in the heart of the pages, deeply inhale the smell of books : ink and paper mixed with the smell of slow adventures and home. In the aftermath, I will stare at the ceiling, feeling oh-so-full and yet also cut short, and I will talk to long-dead authors in my head. “Your ideas elevate mine.” I will say.

I am not a pure original; I doubt anyone is. At times, I will find pieces of something interspersed in someone else’s words, and I will feel the strongest pull towards it— and I will decide that that part is “me”.

I have not come from myself, after all. I am a jagged piece of this universe and so I find myself in all the probable and improbable places it has to offer. I am scattered, constantly reinventing myself and being reinvented by the world(s) I find myself in.

In the depth of winter I finally learned…

“Yet much as it is winter now, it is spring, too, in many ways…my soul bears patterns of flowers pressed in between the creamy pages of well-read books.”

9jedit6
Art by: 9jedit

The light summer breezes that ran swiftly down my forearms are turning cold, now. The chill nipping at ears and fingers and noses. Night comes earlier now, too. Overstays its welcome well into the early morning, and is too lazy to leave right away when asked to.

In the depth of winter I finally learned…

By the bus shelter on the other side of the street, tiny leaves, all yellow and orange, flutter about in the air, landing in curls of wild hair left loose for the wind to play with, insinuating themselves in hoodies and in between layers of clothing, trying to find home somewhere else, trying to draw out life as long as they can. There is a girl standing there, or so I imagine, right by the sign that reads ‘bustop’, leaning dangerously close to the curb, as though buses could be hailed. Wrapped in voluminous coats and scarves that brush the tip of a reddened nose, she shuffles around impatiently. Soft clouds of frozen breaths come in short bursts, hanging over her head like speech bubbles the world would never know how to fill. There she is, a young, frantic soul trying to escape an inexorable winter. But it won’t let up—slowly, it settles in, eating the mountains, the plains, the heart of the city bit-by-bit, like an infection, almost.

(Maybe I was that girl a few years ago)

Yet much as it is winter now, it is spring, too, in many ways. It is spring in the way that I feel. As though my soul bears patterns of flowers pressed in between the creamy pages of well-read books. It is spring in the way that smiles will sneakily stretch onto my face without prior consent. It is spring in the way in which I have never known spring—it has always been summer or winter, there have never been in-betweens— but know that this, this has to be spring, so inexplicable it is if it is not that. It is spring, even in the cooling depths of winter, because it could not be anything else.

…that there lay within me an invincible summer.


“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible summer.”

 — Albert Camus

 

17

“Even as we strolled, sandy-toed and warm down small cobbled roads peppered with sand, even as we inhaled the delicate mix of sea breeze and flowering bushes that hung over low wooden fences, it was lodged within us, this oncoming reality of change. “

naoyamatsukawesing
Art via Naoya Matsuka & Wesing

Yesterday, I saw a pair of girls, all cuffed jeans and visual tees, trying hard to not look like they were trying hard. The quintessence of adolescence.

And I found myself thinking back to that summer when things were changing. When not just you and I, but the whole lot of us were navigating this grey-blue feeling, some mix between discovery and dread. It was the summer when we were 17. Some of us just so, others about to topple over into those precious 18 years. The whole year was like the realisation, as you were nudged awake on the sofa and told to go to bed, that you would never wake up in between your covers after falling asleep watching TV. You could fake sleep and giggle quietly at the thought, but you’d gotten too heavy. Or it was just time to stop these habits.

It was a bit of a grieving year, in that way.

We were all 17, a group of too-many girls with wild hair and imperfect smiles. And change was coming for us. Even in the heat of the holidays, the cool blueness of the ocean and the saltiness of the sea spray, we could not run from that. Some of us were already flirting with that fire; all red lips and heady perfumes in place of pink gloss and floral scents. All to go to a café or on a movie date. Grown-up, yet not quite so. A convergence of two ages, two states of mind, where eagerness trumps experience.

Even as we strolled, sandy-toed and warm down small cobbled roads peppered with sand, even as we inhaled the delicate mix of sea breeze and flowering bushes that hung over low wooden fences, it was lodged within us, this oncoming reality of change. But we laughed, we surreptitiously picked flowers and put them in our hair. The most skillful and artistic of us pulling them in braids.

But we knew, as we carried the scent of summer flowers with us, that this could be the last. It was an unsaid thing.

Silence would fall on our skins the way the sun kissed our faces, poking light through the holes in our large-brimmed hats. The silence thrummed, imbued in all our collective fears. No one mentioned a thing as we walked closer together, slower. Arms brushed, fingers lightly hooked onto the swelling cloth of overlarge shirts fluttering in the wind. The songs of that summer walked in step with us, slid into the wind, and we momentarily forgot.

And then we reached ‘home’, that place with the perennially sun-kissed terrace and low-lying rattan chairs, the garden generously sprinkled with sand, and the swimwear that was always drying on the line. In the quietness, at night, you could even hear the waves crashing from afar. Some of us had places to be, people to meet.

In the brouhaha that is a group of girls getting ready, I slipped away. Solitary, a large towel wrapped around my waist. I didn’t even take the book I had been reading with me. I was too far gone into reality for any sort of escape. It was just me, that towel, some sunscreen and a cold bottle of limpid, peach iced tea the colour of sunsets, that had condensation dripping on the sides.

I remember my bare feet sinking into fine, too-warm sand, toes wiggling as they tried to grow roots into the sand, like palm trees. And then slowly, I entered the sparkling ocean, lukewarm from the sun, until it reached my waist and I dove forward. Later, I lay on top of the waves, my body cooled by the water and heated by the sun. I looked into the clouds until my eyes closed from the brightness of the sky. And I let myself be taken away, back and forth, right and left and everywhere in between. I was level with everything, heartbeat in sync with the waves, ears echoing the gentle woosh of the ocean.

Somewhat ironically, it was as I lowered myself into the ocean that I reached the height of that summer.

Is it wrong that when I think of that summer, it is that moment that matters most? That moment when I was all alone, and nothing else existed?

(But it doesn’t matter now, does it?)