Sleepless world.

young adult old soul magic realism writing
Art by : Hajin Bae

It is nights like these that I think of you most.

Hot summer nights when the humidity, exceeding the 80 percent bar, weighs on my skin and everything in life feels so heavy. Always, in those rare instances when I have managed to drop out of the routine that clings to my skin, an image of you comes unbidden to my mind. You must know them as well as I do, those kinds of nights when I pierce a hole into my “schedule” and can finally let some air in, as though life had become an airtight, windowless room.

Out on the balcony, I breathe in the night sky, feeling the cool outside air sliding down my arms, picking up my ample t-shirt dress, making it billow on my back as though it were the sail to a boat and I was about to be taken away. Like a ship sailing in an ocean of stars. To get to that place only we know. With my hair untied, loose for once from its bun, not even the railing could anchor me. Not even the warmth of the orange light behind me, not even the letters in my room.

In the developing coolness of the late night (01:16 a.m. where I am now), something constricts in my heart.

It has been so long since the last time, but I remember you. You and this feeling : light and hazy, confusing : it takes my whole mind apart in the gentlest of ways.

Somehow or other, I always come back to you. It is always this scene that lies in the background of all the stages of my life. Like a parallel life running alongside mine, that I can only see when I stop for a moment and look around me.

We know each other but I do not remember ever meeting you.

But I have thought of you too much as I breathed in lungfuls of loneliness on cold, star-speckled nights. I have imagined too deliberately what it would mean to meet someone like you, to not know you when you are right in front of me.

I have sent too many thoughts into the night that have only reached you in early morning sleep for you to not wonder why a stranger feels so familiar.

You see, I know you. I’ve known you all along. I have spoken with you, with the idea of someone like you at 2 a.m. when I could not find rest, in classrooms filled with friends as I looked out the window or in clattering buses as the sun set.

I know you. I don’t remember much about you; I don’t really know your name. But we know each other. A relationship held together by stars and nights willing to carry our heaviness, our ache for friendship to another blue soul somewhere in this vast, sleepless world.

I have shared so many moons with you, so many new years and eclipses; so many hours of sleep. Still, we have never met, not until now. Not until now when, for some reason, all of my life is pouring out to you in casual conversation. Not until now when opening up has never felt so right, when I speak in half-sentences and obscure references only for you to nod gently, a light of understanding glinting in your eyes.

27.10.18


Listening to :

Lonely stars and unnamed moons.

magic realism writing young adult old soul hajin bae
Art by : Hajin Bae

Did you know that during winter, you can still see stars at 05:30 a.m?

When I woke up to them, still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I thought I might still be dreaming or that I was seeing these strange light visions you get when you rub your eyes. I thought I might have woken up on one of Saturn’s 9 unnamed moons (out of a total of 62 moons with enthralling names: Thrymyr, Ijiraq, Telesto, Lapetus, Titan…) and was seeing the universe laid out before me, all engulfing darkness and lights that shine all the brighter for it.

It felt decidedly surreal, to be visiting the universe one dawn in my pyjamas, hair ruffled and warm from sleep, my fluffy eye mask snagged in one direction around my neck.

It was an honest mistake, and a beautiful one to boot. But the world was silent, the city young and asleep. Not even the sound of an altered motorcycle exhaust. Not even the barking of a dog. Nothing. It was quiet, like how I know the universe must be. In the hour before dawn, I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, stars have this ethereal pinkish glow, something a little peachy and warm. I woke up to the universe outside my bedroom window, to moons hanging low in my backyard, grazing the balcony overlooking the city.

Or so it seemed.

Of course, I would realise they were stars as time went by.

And yet somehow, instead of disappointment, I felt all the more thankful for them. For how they accompany us even in the last hours of the night, fearing we might lose our way.

Finally, finally, after a lifetime of contemplation, under the protective glow of pinkish stars, I realised that stars are for me companions, friends, who see me through the darkness of night, holding my hand until the small hours and beyond.

I am never alone when the stars are with me, when the Universe sends them my way to guide me through the dark.

Slowly, reverently, I trace my fingertips over the patterns of stars in the lightening sky. One, two, three, four and a few hundred more. Though side by side, sharing the same skies, they never meet.

Perhaps it is true.

I trace over the patterns of lights on the apartment complex a few blocks away. Every window that is lit up is at least one person.

It really is true : that each star represents a connection I will never make, a friend I will never meet. We are all strangers under one big sky, learning our own orbits, navigating our loneliness.

That morning, there must have been someone else like me. Another one or more, staring at the pinkish lights, keeling under the revelation of 5 a.m. stars, their questions floating in the sky, not unheard but still unanswered.

Is there someone out there like me?


Quote of the day :

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

— Frida Kahlo

Note : I have to admit though, Lonely Stars and Unnamed Moons is a pretty amazing band name. 10/10 would listen to their music if they existed 😂

The Night Train

“For all the times I couldn’t, I want to feel the night combing its fingers through my hair, arranging it into an artful mess filled with stars and visions of worlds I am not yet aware of.”

spiritedaway
Gif from the movie “Spirited Away”

These days, I am always out when the sun sets. Riding a bus, navigating through beaches and plains, cities and forgotten villages. I am out there when the sun sets, when the first neon lights come to life, crackling, blinking. When the street food vendors set up their stalls, preparing for the night’s work. I see them, women and men, faces lit by the artificial glow of a light bulb hanging overhead, waiting well into the night, alone.

I am out when the first star lights up the juvenile night. When the sun, in its last breaths, gives out an orange glow met halfway by darkness, cutting the horizon in half—turning the swaying trees into darkened silhouettes.

I am there, by a window always, in that darkened bus and its cold seats, where the rest of the passengers are quietly living poetry of their own, too. I crane my neck back, head pressed against the cool glass of the open window. I can never bring myself to close it fully. For all the times I couldn’t, I want to feel the night combing its fingers through my hair, arranging it into an artful mess filled with stars and visions of worlds I am not yet aware of.

I watch the night unravel, from the beaches, where a lone fisherman finally reels back his line, through the plains, cold and soothing, over the small lake, the one named “Solitude”, and through the village, to the fields.

We’re all going home, I think, as we pass by houses lit warmly from the inside. From inside the now still bus, my skin can almost taste that warmth, sink into it. But it is not really that kind of warmth I crave. There is warmth that has nothing to do with temperature or freezing fingers, and everything to do with the heart.

“Makes you want to go home, doesn’t it?”

The driver once commented, as we had stopped to let a stream of passengers out.

Quietly I said yes, yes it does. We did not speak after that, but I feel we understood each other, in a way. After all, there is a world out there only we know. A world of people in transit, waiting to get home, crossing worlds together to get there.

And in a way, in that strange, human way, the bus itself becomes a temporary safe place. We are all aware of each other, because there’s only ever a handful of us, at some point. We all look at who gets down where, even mumble goodbyes and wave tired hands. We all wish it was us, some of us out loud. When it’s pitch-black at the end of the night and you’re on a bus, you don’t wear a mask — you let the tiredness and the homesickness show.

The bus drones on for a while, the scenery passes, and so do the people. Life goes on, but not really, for me, for us. We are in transit, suspended somewhere between earth and sky.

When my turn to leave comes, when I finally see that bustop sign gleaming under the light of a streetlamp, I sigh softly. I smile at the driver and say goodbye, naturally, as though he is someone I have known for a while. And he watches to see that I’ve made it out safely. I, too, watch as the bus rides on into the night, to that darkened road that leads to the stars, and more importantly, home.


 

Note : I hope you have all been doing well! Fingers crossed the blog will be more active in June. Looking for this gif, I also stumbled upon this wonderful post, which details a scene from the movie this piece is inspired by amazingly well.

2 a.m. In My Part of the World

“So know that if one day you’ve wondered about a stranger on the other side of the world,  if you’ve lived through 2 a.ms that seemed surreal and strangely detached, if one lonely night you have thought of me, I have thought of you, too.”

sketches___002_by_aenami-db81b5r
Art by: Aenami

I fell asleep to the sounds of thunder ripping apart the skies, and to the pitter-patter of rain soothing its pains. The vaporous veil of sleep fluttered against my eyelids and I fell gently into unconsciousness, the way a feather flutters to the ground.

Later, I awoke to a semi-realistic world and to puddles left on my balcony. My fingers, which had been so gently stained by watercolour, probed the cool surface. Once, a younger version of me had believed that there were forgotten cities and dormant forests hidden on the other side of puddles. That, if you weren’t careful (or if came your time for an adventure) your curious, probing finger would get sucked into whole other worlds. Other times, an older, quieter me would glide her fingers over these cool puddles and believe they were portals to places where it had also rained in the world. But not many people knew that.

I imagined my heart growing, aching as it did, as I left the lonely morning  in my part of the world to reach a cold balcony bathed in night, in some restless city. And right there, would be another version of me. Someone who did not look like me, who did not speak the language I did, who did not believe the things I did. But someone just like me in all the ways that mattered. Someone with a flickering inner light, cloaked in gentle loneliness.

There would be wonder. Delight. Two flickering lights would halfway meet, and like the dying fire of two candles, would each rekindle the other. There was a lot of quietness, of bathing in the soft glow of unspoken friendship, of not being alone on cold nights.

But there was an ache, too. The piercing constriction and expansion of hearts growing redder, fuller. As the night wore on, dreams and fears spilled into the milky way, over the city. There was something so simple and yet so singularly important about it. About sharing an overwhelming loneliness into the uncaring night.

The stars witnessed it all.

But they never saw the goodbyes that were really farewells, the “sleep wells” that veritably meant: “Please have a good life, be happy. I’m rooting for you.”. Because it was only by morning that the puddles would dry and life on the other side would call.  And we would never meet again. Because the same kind of rain never falls twice.

And now, today, on my balcony, as I watch the clear yet somber skies, I remember all the people I have thought of in my life. All those idle moments when I realised: “Oh! It’s someone’s birthday today!” or “Someone in the world is doing the exact thing I am doing right now.” and “I wonder how many other people are watching the exact same moon in this moment.”.

So know that if one day you’ve wondered about a stranger on the other side of the world,  if you’ve lived through 2 a.ms that seemed surreal and strangely detached, if one lonely night you have thought of me, I have thought of you, too.

 

Not Okay

“How many more times do you need to ache to understand that this isn’t normal?”

loony
Art by: Loony

“How long has it been since you’ve been loved? Since you’ve been seen for who you truly are? How long have you been hiding—cutting off pieces of yourself and burying them in places no one would find them? How long have you been scared of people finding out about your story? How many times have you wished they would? How many more times do you need to ache to understand that this isn’t normal? These memories, these bookmarks of your story—if you bury them, they will only grow.  And like baobabs, their roots will find their way to your heart. They will entrench themselves so profoundly that they will take over. Until one day, you will not even see the blueness of the sky. How long until this carefully constructed lie falls apart and you realise how empty you’ve made yourself?”

 


Note: This is Day 17 of my NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. You can read the entry for Day 16 here. If you enjoyed this, I’ve also written about similar themes previously.

The Lonely 1 a.m’s of Life

“At 1 a.m., we are too much of ourselves. At 1 a.m., we cannot handle the thoughts that take a highway to feelings…. At 1 a.m., your heart is a funnel for the feelings of all other hearts. “

michelleellis
Photo by: Michelle Ellis

I think a major reason why we sleep at night is to avoid living these 1 a.m’s. They are the moments when everything exists through a haze, as though any moment now you would realise you were dreaming and go back to sleep. But it all feels too real, too. The sounds of the neighbour’s air-con going off, the rustling leaves and the silence. It is calm even in your head. But there is no peace. Just contemplation. Just everything, naked, uncaring for the sweetness or brutality of Reality. At 1 a.m., we are too much of ourselves. At 1 a.m., we cannot handle the thoughts that take a highway to feelings.

At 1 a.m., the brain actually shuts down in part, something about needing rest and signalling that you’re tired. But the heart never does—it takes no breaks. So at 1 a.m., you have no thoughts, really. Only memories and sadness. Yes, 1 a.m. is the heart’s reign. So even the sadness is too complicated to dissect. Regret. Fear. Nostalgia. Hope. Useless wishes. Insecurities. This amorphous thing that is Life. At 1 a.m., your heart is a funnel for the feelings of all other hearts.

At 1 a.m., Life stares back at you, asks you who you are and what you’ve done. You’ve had 20 years—what are you now? Who will you be in another 20?

But because your brain is sleeping, because all your defenses are down, the only reply you give is the one that comes from your eyes.

Boring Sundays and Warm Loneliness

Before, there was no room for boredom. Only space for: “I am soul-deep tired. I want to stop.” But now that there is nothing to do, my mind seeks out dreams covered in dust, like old diaries.

‘If I can’t create a new feeling,’ my mind reasons, ‘why not visit an old one?’

“Sundays are boring.” my sister complains like she does every other Sunday of the year.

It could be true though. We, as a collective, as a family, rarely leave the house on Sundays. But as someone who has been known to enjoy laziness and quiet moments of introversion, Sundays such as those suit me just fine. Even if they are tinged with loneliness, it is a loneliness specific to Sundays, something I have known all my life. So, in its own twisted way, it is a comforting ache.

This warm kind of loneliness, I feel it especially now that I have yet to be taken by another engrossing project that does not let me sleep the dark circles away. I have time now, I guess. With the stress gone, I see more clearly what life is. I am not charging ahead, heart bursting, breathless and with eyes on the prize and nothing else. Now, the prize, the purpose is gone and I instead take walks that ease me back into slow movements and quieter states of mind.

When your eyes are not on the prize, when there is no prize, you suddenly find yourself in possession of a peripheral vision and of the empathy that comes with it too. Working for your dreams can be a horribly self-absorbed thing sometimes, I realise.

Eyes on the prize. And nothing else.

So now, I notice that the neighbour’s kids have grown. They have a dog, too. The thyme in the garden has flourished, the daisies are blooming a radiant orange and with a tinge I notice the joy is fading a little from my Mother’s eyes.

At noon, I reach the point of hazy, unsettling loneliness and think Sundays are boring. Before, there was no room for boredom. Only space for: “I am soul-deep tired. I want to stop.” But now that there is nothing to do, my mind seeks out dreams covered in dust, like old diaries.

‘If I can’t create a new feeling,’ my mind reasons, ‘why not visit an old one?’

‘You used to fly kites, remember?’ goes the memory ‘You’d gaze at the cheap thing, all fluttering plastic and frail sticks tied with some piece of string you found in the garage, feeling so proud. But then your gaze would be lost somewhere between the clouds, in the valley between the green mountains and you’d think: “I wonder if someone else is flying a kite somewhere in the world?”

‘Greece,’ you thought, unknowing, uncaring of time-zones or geography. ‘Yes, Greece, with its statues and fables — mythology, actually— someone must be flying a kite there. Or China: dragons and great walls, emperors and dynasties. They must have beautiful kites there: large, red and gold in the shape of a dragon or a swan spanning grand wings in the sky, a crimson dot in the open world. 

It’s evening when, like the kites I used to fly, I am reeled back to Earth. Back to this feeling of Sunday boredom, this dull loneliness punctuated by music coming in from the neighbours, the drifting clouds, the obvious wanderlust, the soft orange skies of sunset and the smell of chicken in the stove.

Yeah, all that, that’s the fragrance: Eau de Boring Sunday.

And yet, I won’t make plans for next Sunday, just like I don’t for many, many Sundays of the year.


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I am a boring person, y’all.