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:

Under the shade of centenerian trees

“In nature though, it is the opposite that happens : you breathe out the smell of the city, expunge its taste from your tongue; you cough out the second-hand cigarette smoke and carbon monoxide and gorge your lungs with crisp air from down by the stream.”

heikalaa
Art by : Heikala

I am rather short in stature, and most days I stare with murderous intent at anyone who dares notice the fact out loud.

Even so, there are days when I dream to be much smaller than I already am. So that I may slip through the bars of reality and expectations, through the blinds barring the windows at work, straight into a refreshing stream sparkling with sunlight. I would lie on my back like I’ve done innumerable times at sea, let myself get carried away and just stare up at the skies until my eyes water and I have to blink away the tears, to look away from the blinding light of the sun. How wonderful would it be to gaze up from the passing stream to find masses of leaves rustling with the wind — helping to hide you from the eyes of the world— instead of the vast openness of the sky at sea and sunlight piercing streaks through gaps in the foliage.

Then, a large, waxy leaf would gently detach from a branch, fluttering quietly, anonymously to the ground, down into the stream. And quite naturally, I would reach for it, climb on its veined surface and rest, whilst tracing over the sinewy marks branching away from its centre. Limbs splayed out, drying under the sun, what would worries be but some faraway memory, like a muffled cry under the water?

The most beautiful part would be that no one would know. They might look for me at work, but I do think I’ve earned a day off. It would be a stolen moment then, deliciously anonymous. Lazy and slow, entirely too deliberate to be called a waste of time. Moments like these are called “Nurturing your soul”, filling it with peace; not having to remind it to take deep breaths and not suffocate on the city air. These moments are pockets of bagged oxygen floating in the smog of everyday life. Sometimes, you don’t realise you are being poisoned until you run into one of them, and it strikes you suddenly what you’ve been missing out on this whole time. In nature though, it is the opposite that happens : you breathe out the smell of the city, expunge its taste from your tongue; you cough out the second-hand cigarette smoke and carbon monoxide and gorge your lungs with crisp air from down by the stream.

You breathe it all out in clear bags and send it flying to a black hole ways beyond, at the ends of Time.

I could bring a book, too. Or my sketch book and some watercolour. And cool peach iced tea sloshing in a mason jar mug, droplets of condensation rushing to the bottom. Maybe there could be a few music notes too, floating over my head.

I could hang onto them and fly away for a little while under the shade of centenarian trees.


Note : This is NaNoWriMo Day 4. I couldn’t publish it on time because of some setbacks. Day 5 is coming soon ! 🙂 Meanwhile, you can read my entry for Day 3.

The Garden On The Other Side

 

gardenyellow
Art by: Unknown Artist

I hope that one day, you get to look on the other side of fear.

I hope that the weight of all the lives you are not living comes smacking you in the face and startles you from your numbness. I hope it shakes your bed made of the bitter comforts of days that are all the same. I hope you realise someday that the emptiness you feel cannot be filled with just anything. No matter how much you eat or how many things you buy, the hole will still be gaping. The only moment when it is filled is the split second when all these things pass through, only to be dumped on the other side.

I hope that one day, you no longer have to hide. I hope that you learn to not fear loss. That, instead, you find it’s something to be accepted. Because I don’t want to see you clutching what you love so close to you it bruises, anymore. I don’t want to see you telling yourself that this is fine. That this kind of life is okay, when you have dreams bigger than the world. I hope you will no longer be chained to the past. I hope, I hope that you can learn to trust the world a little more. Trust that, on the other side of that rough, heavy wall, there is a garden awaiting. And freedom.

Freedom from fear.

I hope, one day, to see you running down these plains, laughing like a younger version of you you never got to be. I hope to see you grow like wildflowers by the riverbank, defying the currents and dancing with the wind.

I hope you can be as free as the child who jumps running out of the water only to splash in it again, her laughter like the breeze in between the dangling pieces of a wind chime.

 

December Freedom

cityy
Art by: 양태종

I forget how beautiful language can be.

How one word can express the maze of thoughts and emotions that inhabit us. How extraordinary that language can represent feelings—these deep, emotional complexities that have no physical form. Language creates. In a breath, it gives a body where emotions make up the soul.

Earlier, I came across the japanese word “Yūgen”, which means: “An awareness of the universe that triggers an emotional response too deep and mysterious for words.”. We have words to describe what we cannot describe. How wonderful, how ethereal.

Today again, I was writing (in my head, because that’s where the writing is most beautiful) about how people let go of themselves come December. How their shoulders relax, their expressions slacken, how their voices soften and their eyes gain a mellow warmth. But only the word “Délier” came to mind. It is a french word, meaning to untie. The one word describes the phenomenon better than any one-paragraph description ever could.

“Délier” is to release, to let go of and untwist, to give freedom, to become unstuck, to let tongues wag. “Délier”, to me, is the feeling when you take off heels that have been burning the soles of your feet all day long. “Délier” is to break the mould, “Délier” is not having to sit ram-rod straight and instead being able to sink back in the comforts of home. “Délier” is a thousand birds launching themselves into the skies. It is nothing the Larousse will tell you, but words have the meaning we give them. Language doesn’t live in books. It is a rebellious teenager that will always find a window to climb out of.

“People let go of themselves…” I write. No that’s not it. Strike-through. “Les gens se délient lorsqu’arrive Décembre…”

Eleutheromania

charliedavoli
Art by: Charlie Davoli

Eleutheromania (n.): “An intense and irresistible desire for freedom.”

Let’s run away.

Pack our bags and fill the car with gas, fill our eyes with stars. We’ll wave the city goodbye in the rearview mirror. Let’s drive through the night, have the music as loud as we can bear, tendrils flying away in the cold night air, leaving a trail of our journey, our youth. Let’s leave all our problems behind, like used maths books we never want to hear about.

We’ll jump over fences and stop at the next small town. We’ll doff our names, because where we’re going, they’re not important. Where we’re going, you’re just a person among so many others. A star in the milky way. To go from the city where everyone is always trying to be someone, and to sink in the comforting darkness of anonymity…our friends wouldn’t believe it. But there are whole other lives waiting for us out there. Worlds at our feet waiting to be discovered. Laughter hidden in the light filtering through the leaves.

Send a postcard to your family and let them know you’re alright. And when you’re done, let life begin again, the way it should have all these years ago.

Forget about the phones, we’ll take photos with one of those disposable cameras, or not at all. Don’t worry about the deadlines, the deposits, the 5 year plans and boring relationships. Leave it all behind and let’s find home on the road. Let’s be wanderers and make friends twice our age. Let’s try everything the world has to offer, let’s create memories. We’ll stop by the beach and watch the horizon at night. We’ll even catch the first light of day, watch as the darkness suddenly turns into light, how the world changes entirely in just a few moments. We can give it all up and never turn around. We’ll point at airplanes and try to race them to the skyline. Lounge on balconies and soak up the warm afternoon light.

We’ll be fine.We’ll be free.

We’ll tumble down life like paperboats on a rainy day.


Listening to:

Conversations With The Past

luceferous
Art by: Luceferous

“Have you ever wanted to be a thing?” she asks, her eyes wide and expecting.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of being something other than human. Most days, I’m quite happy being a complex constellation of thoughts and emotions and occasionally, home to one or two indescribable inner phenomena.

“What do you mean?”

Her face scrunches up, thinking. Then, she points to the sky. Too bright, too blue, and scorching my retinas.

“The sky?”

She shakes her head, pigtails swaying with the movement.

She points harder, her hand moving to follow something.

It’s a black plastic bag, stark against the summer sky. It is flying higher than the tallest building, dipping and soaring, flailing and being blown away towards the harbour. It’s drifting, drifting…

Free, free…

Maybe it’ll even stick to the masthead of one of those sailboats. All the while uncaring of the business of humans below. Unconcerned by the clinking of coins, the rustling of bills. Or the man shouting through a megaphone that you get 2 pizzas for the price of one in the next hour. The whirring of the slurpee machine, blending a rainbow of colours and the condensation gathering on the outside of the clear plastic. The crowds of people trying to enjoy their Saturday. Café-goers sitting by the terrace, one leg on top of the other, loose and content, sipping on some cold thing as the wind ruffles their hair, threatens to pick up their large hats. Or even the thick, black fumes of vehicles and the mellifluous yet angry “Dring! dring!” of a bicycle bell caught among car honks.

“You want to be a plastic bag?” I laugh.

Her pudgy little face scrunches up again, growing red and angry this time.

“Hmm, I wanted to be a clear plastic ball once.” I tell her.

She peeks at me, as though giving me a chance to redeem myself. It’s not everyday you get the chance to impress a child, you know.  At least not intentionally.

I don’t know why I still remember though. That clear beach ball. We’d lost it in the summer of 2004 to a roaring ocean. We were playing catch in the sand, right next to the sign that said “Dangerous bathing”. And then the ocean breeze caught the ball mid-throw and it disappeared in the froth of the sea, between the large, black rocks. Afterwards, we could see it drifting ever further from the coastline, reaching for the horizon. There was no saving it, either. We could just watch dolefully as it went away.

Drifting, drifting…

“It’s strange, but I still think about that ball sometimes.” I muse.

And it’s true. Many times after, in class or on the bus, I caught myself thinking about where that beach ball could have reached. Only later did I consider the possibility that it could have burst. But it didn’t matter long, that idea. The image of it drifting away was stronger than any imagined truth.

By now, my little companion has forgotten all about her grudge. Her eyes are twinkling, focused on some blank space, living the tale of the departed beach ball.

She grips my hand suddenly, tugging on my sleeve.

“And then! And then! What else did you want to be??”

I laugh as we walk away into the city, navigating the cobbled roads.

“Well, once, I wanted to be a parachute…”


Listening to:

 

The Seamstress and the Sea

“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.”

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.

 

 

 

Summertime Freedom

“‘Important’ does not mean what it used to mean anymore. Now, smiling is important. Unstoppable laughter is important. Comparing the size of our hands, marveling at the length of our hair or how sun-kissed and sandy-toed we are is important. Or perhaps none of it is and that is what is delightful…”

Pho3
The most wonderful thing about this photo? No filter.

I am living to the rhythm of lazy days, long days that stretch and stretch along the horizon line. Warm days lost on the world, bereft of meaning and yet ridiculously indispensable.

But really, what could be more important than watching algae swish to-and-fro with the tide? Or finding out just how long I can hold my breath?  To be honest, I am vaguely aware of some ‘important’ matter I am meant to overthink about—something, something about finding out what to do with the rest of my life. Yeah, that. The waves shrug off the thought though, they send it rolling far away from the shoreline and deep into dark blue waters.

‘Important’ does not mean what it used to mean anymore. Now, smiling is important. Unstoppable laughter is important. Comparing the size of our hands, marveling at the length of our hair or how sun-kissed and sandy-toed we are is important. Or perhaps none of it is and that is what is delightful. Everything is optional; I am free from consequences, free even from the restraints my dark thoughts set around my heart.

You know, maybe the sound of freedom is not the sound of the sea after all, but rather the sound of this heart going: “Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub” so calm and unbothered that it sounds vaguely, vaguely like: “Free-dom, free-dom, free-dom”.

Scared to Be Free

Regate
(Somehow, this photo caused all this writing.)

“People,” I recall her saying, “They are like boats in a harbour. They think they are free, but they’re really not.”

“Where’s the freedom in only being someone you’re supposed to be?” she asked. “Where’s the freedom in being moored to paperwork, to rules that are unspoken and unwritten? How free do you feel to be made to enjoy the sun’s bright glow behind a desk in an artificially lit room?”

“We’re too scared to be free.” I whispered. “Freedom is dangerous. Out at sea, there are storms. The waves are so monstrous that their very shadows instill fear in our hearts. How much trust can you put in one boat?”

“But don’t you want to know?? Don’t you ever wonder—”

I shook my head. And her voice, the light in her eyes died down.

Later, she was gone, her risk had not paid off.  And I was safe, warm and well-fed. But it still felt as though she had won much more than I ever would.