Stellar Thoughts •

“It’s hard to explain where I’m coming from when one minute I am laughing with everyone else at the beach and the next, I am staring off into space, into the layers of sand washing away into the sea. Thinking of scenes too otherworldly to comprehend, of thoughts that spirit you away.”

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Gif from the movie “Howl’s Moving Castle”

It’s hard to explain where I come from.

Not geographically. Or culturally, ethnically, socially. Not through these kinds of lenses, not through methods tried and true. There is not one lens that fits, not really. Nor is there a combination of them. All they project is an approximation, an à peu près* image, a translation for a word that has no equivalent.

But no, what I mean is that it is hard to explain—when I emerge from dazedly staring off into space— the depths of the worlds I was just a second before absorbed into. It is hard to explain what started it. How, from one blade of grass, my mind has built cities and ignited stars, conjured yellowed childhood memories and movie scenes. I cannot explain where I come from during bus journeys, cannot explain how there is this clear wistfulness pooling in my hands, staring me right back in the face, reading to me memories I have never experienced.

I’d give anything to hear

You say it one more time

I cannot explain how piano pieces make me feel unspeakable things, make me shudder, and my heart tremor with beauty and thinly-veiled fear. The fear that there is, somewhere in this wordless melody, hanging in the air between the vibrating strings of a piano, an echo of my own thoughts. And more importantly, the knowledge that behind it, there are hands and a brain and a heart that knew how to describe all of this giant, wordless feeling that swirls perennially inside of me. In no time at all, I can feel the fear, the anxiety, the disbelief from having found all that I have been looking for.

It’s hard to explain where I’m coming from when one minute I am laughing with everyone else at the beach and the next, I am staring off into space, into the layers of sand washing away into the sea. Thinking of scenes too otherworldly to comprehend, of thoughts that spirit you away.

Sometimes, my mind drifts. Sometimes I am shipwrecked in the Sea of Tranquility, feeling like the last person in the universe. And where silent moments before would find me stargazing from Earth, I am now watching its remains as though it twinkles as the stars do. As though its solitary ruins will guide me through the night, like the stars once did.

I feel like one of them, now, these stars I have longed to hold.

And yet, it all means very little now. I wanted so much to be somewhere else, to be part of the universe as though it were the big city and I just a country girl from Earth. But there is only silence now. The stars are not loud and the planets revolve without a word, while their moons follow. Some days, I think of extinguishing the stars, of putting them out and turning the lights off on this old, old universe. Other days, I sit quietly by a piano, nestled in the sea of tranquility and play a song I’m not sure I remember. I play to no one in particular, I play to keep the music alive, to not forget. I play because if I forget, nobody else will remember. I play to keep a part of my soul alive.

So it’s hard to say where I come from.

I mean, I’m not even sure how I got there.

Which winding paths and dirt roads I took, which side alleys I bypassed, which tracks I made myself.

That the universe was made

Just to be seen by my eyes **

But I think that lenses don’t really help. It is best, I think, to view these things with a naked eye.


*   à peu près : almost, nearly, approximately (but it is, to me, one of those expressions best left in the original language).

Listening to :

** The words in italics are all lyrics from this wonderful, wonderful song.

Dawn in the Old Capital

“The day is new, but I am an old, old soul navigating this life through in the old capital…”

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Photograph by : Masashi Wakui

The old capital sleeps still as my footsteps echo in its dimly-lit streets, shoes clacking against the marble floor of a colonial-age building that stands proud and mighty, even in the dark.

These teeming thoroughfares that are always loud, infused with smog, resonating the cries of vendors are now so calm, so silent. Almost robbed of life. But there is this silent energy that thrums in the old city, as though the heart, the essence of the city came to life at night, revealing itself to me.

In the orange light of the streetlamps flickering gently in a puddle, the years slowly pass me by.

There is a scent of wildness and freshness, and there is too much sky. Too much sea; the port has yet to be. The city is so young, only now emerging from the ground. Wisps of a language too old for me to understand float in the air. In coaches and carriages, there are men and women, dressed in the finest cottons and silks on their trip to the newly-born capital, hair coiffed, faces painted. But behind them others trail. Nameless. Faces darkened with sweat and grime, with no choice but to be brought to this foreign city and to do as others will. History will remember the names of the ones who brought them there. But their own stories will forever be lost in the nooks and crannies of the capital. The city reminds me that it has never been kind.

But it is archaic, has been there for a long, long time.

The carriages fade, and instead, a crowd amasses near the docks. The first letters have arrived. And newspapers several months old, spices, all sorts of items from around the known world (silk from china, embroidered cloths from India…).

Soon and yet not soon enough, the faces of those who wander the capital freely change. Now, dark skin gleams proudly under the sun, braided locks tumble freely in the wind.

And then all the horses fade. Soon, a few sleek and shiny cars ride along asphalted streets. The capital is changing. It has been changing for a long time now. A boy cries out headlines, stacks of newspapers behind his frail legs. Families bustle around, buying groceries and presents for upcoming holidays. The city is warm and welcoming, now. Many a wayward sailor finds home in one of its hidden places.

And then the boy is gone, and the headlines speak of a war. The streets are cold, the sunlight unwelcome. Whispers of “the war” fan now-sparsely populated roads. The people are glum and thin. Smiles turn out to be rarer commodities than food. Officers, decked in imposing uniforms stalk around, seeming tall and all too important, whisper heatedly of things only they know. The city does not grow much during that time. It hides.

And then the war is over. It is a blink of an eye to the old city, that war. Yet for its people it seemed like it would never end, even when it did. The city is never the same after.

The cars grow sleeker and more numerous now. But protests fill the streets of the city ever so often, and the old capital can only bow to the determined faces, the strong arms brandishing signs.

And then all too fast the years flash by, and even as my eyes water from the whiplash of that much knowledge all at once, I catch glimpses of faces that seem distantly familiar. Faces that I have only ever seen this young and carefree in yellowed photographs. Floral skirts and wild hair flow in the wind, large, tinted sunglasses resting atop noses.

And then there is a child tottering about near the port, ignoring a melting heap of ice-cream, instead entranced by the horizon, the boats and ships leaving the harbour. I know who that child is. I remember.

And later, later, the city rises from the earth and the night, touches the skies and doesn’t mean to stop there.

The day is new, but I am an old, old soul navigating this life through in the old capital.

 

 

 

A Lie Beautifully Told

“If reality were nothing but an agreed upon lie, childhood would be the most beautiful lie we would have.”

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Art by: Kazuhiro Hori

It’s always so strange to see childhood friends being adults.

To see them in suits and beards, wearing 9-inch heels and nail polish when I’ve seen them eating glue, their hair a nest, some of their teeth missing or moving precariously in their mouths. It feels like a masquerade, like another school show they’re putting on.

Any moment now, the sticker-beard will fall off, the nail polish will wash off and they will all shrink back to their normal sizes. In this way, life feels so unreal. Like I will wake up from a nap and will find myself in that old classroom with the worn wooden chairs, the smell of flowering trees and summer wafting through the windows, chalk dust all over my hands. And my friends will be laughing at me while my teacher sighs and tells me to go wash my face.

Sometimes, life feels like this weird, far-fetched dream, the kind you have when you’ve had too much sugar during the day.

Other days though, it is childhood that seems too farfetched. Too perfect to ever have been real. Like something a younger version of you would go to a genie to wish for.

But it’s real. Or at least, it seems to be. If reality were nothing but an agreed upon lie, childhood would be the most beautiful lie we would have.

End of the Road

“But dying’s not so bad, you know? It means you got to live in the first place.”

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Art by: Anwita Citriya

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.

It happens whenever it’s time for new beginnings. On the upside, it means that I think about beginnings every time a journey comes to an end, every time a relationship fades. It mustn’t have helped that I watched a movie about a sick boy with a heart condition . And I saw some news online about a man from the other side of the world who died alone and had no funeral.

It occurred to me that one day, that would be me.

That my time of dying would come.

As a twentysomething, I’m not sure that is something I’m meant to consider so gravely. But I did it back when I was 16, thought about what dying felt like at 12 and even younger. I think it’s natural. It’s natural to want to know what happens to you throughout life, although maybe I was a bit precocious.

People make death out to be this frightening, foreign thing, but I’m not afraid to say I’m dying. We all are. Saying it, acknowledging it will not speed up the process.

But dying’s not so bad, you know? It means you got to live in the first place.

I’d be more ashamed to admit that I wasn’t living. That my heart beat fine, and my lungs breathed just right, but I never truly felt alive. Which is what prompted me to watch the movie with the dying boy, actually. I tend to save up moments sometimes— books, art, movies, experiences— to enjoy in tough times, because those always do come around.

This time though, I didn’t want to have regrets. At least not the kind of regrets I could have done something about. I didn’t want to wait until I was ready because I would never really be. I didn’t want to live in fear of time running out, or of things turning sour again.

Still, I’m a little sad thinking I will die one day, no matter how much I’ve accepted it. All beliefs aside, I am sad that I’ll never see the sky again. That ever-changing sky that has become home. I’ll probably miss the time of day when the sun slowly rises, when you witness the birth of a whole new day and it gives you a feeling that makes you think anything is possible, that yesterday can’t hold you back.

But I don’t want to spend time missing something I haven’t lost yet. So after writing this, I’ll be going outside and looking at the sky for a long while. Hopefully, I’ll wake up early tomorrow and watch the sun rise, too.

 

These Afternoons When We Were Young

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Art by 와이알

These afternoons, as the sun warms my desk in streaks of golden light, as the end of the working day is near, and yet so far away, when I get to take a break from being an anonymous intern, I keep remembering the days when I was young and tragically beautiful.

When I was there but never quite so, all swept up in my own world, walled off by all the books I would read. Back in those days when the character from my book was the perfect representation of the romantic hero, and that being the case, so was I. He was beautiful with sad eyes. With longings only he could understand and dreams only he could reach. And all the others, wary and awed, watched his life unravel, secretly wishing they were in on that marvelous secret that was his world.

He sat in quiet, blooming gardens or by a stream, behind the school yard or in places no one would ever look for him in. The sunlight falling through the leaves like freckles on his face, the wind softly blowing the overlong hair back and forth across a cold, pensive face. And often, I would be somewhere under the shade of an ancient tree, a book or journal tucked safely under my arm, utterly detached from this Earth though being so close to its roots. I read about a shy young boy, yet to be a man and the way he only started living in the summer of his 15th year.

I remember the afternoons that were golden and too warm, when we spoke together of hidden castles and a love that vanished without a trace of having ever been. I remember the heaviness in our stomachs as we breathed in the scent of death that now covered young, innocent love. As our eyes clouded with grief and something gripped at our ribs, wanting to pry them open. I remember closing my eyes and hoping the words would change—that, somehow, love would grow and so would life. But no tears can rewrite a story, even as they spill on the ink and distort the writing.

Before the tears, I remember falling asleep to the soft, droning voice that read the freshness of the woods, and the clearness of blue eyes and a fantasy that happened, hidden somewhere between cities that had not yet been built. I slowly faded out of consciousness, reality blurring with the warmth of the evening. That moment, it was something fragile and quiet and all my own.

I remember being saved by people I would never meet. Characters that once might have been alive, but who died with the people who brought them to life on cream-coloured paper. People whose fates are now forever lost. Somewhere in a plane crashed in the Mediterranean sea, or in the French woods, covered by moss.

“He did not desire her,” I remember the soft voice saying, “No, they loved each other in strong bonds of friendship.”

I had never read something so deliberately. Nor, I suspect, will I ever. I was tragically young and hungry, hungry for words and experiences that I know well enough now. There is no mystery left. No tragedy to my ephemerality. Too old, too weary now to be that person with the sad eyes.

But even now, I want to eat the book sometimes. Or find some other way to swallow the pages, to find some means to make it stay with me. There were other times, too, when I looked at the name on the front of the cover, traced it and thought: ” I am touching a part of your soul. If only you knew.”

“If only you had known what you would be, maybe, maybe…”


 

Note: This one is about a book that is very dear to my heart. Something I studied as a teen, as part of my French literature classes. If you’d like to know the title, leave me a message (Aha, I’m a little protective over it) and I’ll get back to you ^^

Make Me Happy

“Back then, the summer, happiness —they were the truth of that time. Now, we live another truth. A different one, but the truth all the same. And being true, I have decided, will always mean more than being happy. “

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Art by: Tofuvi

Thinking back to the honeyed days of old, they say to me:

“Take me back to the place of a thousand summers. The palace made of moulding planks held in the branches of a tree. Can we go back to when we were young and beautiful? When we did not wonder our worth, when we were pristine and whole. When we hadn’t yet learnt that without wanting to, we could plant arrows in each other’s backs? Let’s return to safety, to not arguing about whether happiness exists or not, because back then it did. Let’s go back to a time when we don’t have to wish it was another time. Let’s go back. Back to when time didn’t exist, did not even matter.”

I can’t. And now, I’m not sure I want to.

Back then, the summer, happiness —they were the truth of that time. Now, we live another truth. A different one, but the truth all the same. And being true, I have decided, will always mean more than being happy. Remember, back then we’d ask our parents for their share of cake, knowing they would give it to us out of love, but also knowing they really wanted it, too. It made us happy, that extra piece of cake. But I wouldn’t do the same now. The happiness of children and the happiness of what we are now—it is different. Part of that happiness is ignorance. Besides, there are things you can value more than happiness. And I am happy to live in a world, as a version of me, where I have learned that.

We can always return, you know. To the summer, to the swings. But I would rather go somewhere else. Somewhere we’ve never been before. And there we may come upon a string of Fate that leads us to where we are meant to be. But I do not want to linger back. To revisit an old happiness and decide to stay there, as though it were reality. True happiness does not exist in lies. It is an illusion. A reflection in the water that is disfigured at the slightest ripple.

I realise, too, that back then, we relentlessly relied on other people to make our happiness. We clung to their backs and added to their burdens. Burdens they made light, truly. But I don’t want that happiness now. I don’t want to rely on other people’s hard work for me to be happy. I think it’s time we gave back. Time to become the people who made us happy. You see, the world would be a much better place, if only we took turns in giving what we usually receive. If only we do not take all of the summer for us. With happiness as with many other things, one never loses in sharing.


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Note: On this note, happy (belated?) new year! I hope you have all had a wonderful time during the holidays. And thank you for sticking with me all this time. You can look forward to some new things this year (Hint: more series types of writing coming your way…aaand some other stuff 😀 )

Too Big For The Ocean

“You no longer know the ocean. You do not remember running after airplanes taking off by the sea. Bare feet burning on the asphalt, laughing as we sped up, believing we would also take flight if we went fast enough. “

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Art by: Puuung

Years ago, on that sweltering summer day, we ran into the sparkling ocean, shrieking and splashing and living. Today though, I’m drawing starfish and seashells on the corner of a letter that will never reach you. Even so, I’m writing to you about how the ocean calls your name. How I wish every seashell I put to my ear would echo the sound of your laughs. I wish the ocean we shared before didn’t have to be the one thing to separate us now.

But do you remember what summer was like here?

The sun heating our faces, turning our shoulders red. The shaved ice coloured pink, green, yellow and blue that would melt on the stick, dripping down our hands. The wind filtering through the locks of our hair stiff from dried salt. The cold water we would drink straight from the coconut, heavy in our small arms. Do you remember that even then we held hands? Back when we knew nothing about the world, and it seemed the most natural thing to do?

Do you remember? But they tell me you’re trying to forget.  I can’t bear to ask because I’m always hoping I’ll hear the sound of your feet on the sand, sloshing against the welcoming waves. Always imagining you will return to the ocean and dare call it home. But home is no longer the space between our intertwined hands. Home is now an apartment building squeezed in between two others, right? Home is a grey flat lost in the metropolis, a shrub of greenery peeking out of a tiny, stuffed balcony.

There’s no point, right?

You no longer know the ocean. You do not remember running after airplanes taking off by the sea. Bare feet burning on the asphalt, laughing as we sped up, believing we would also take flight if we went fast enough. No, the city is yours now. This little village by the sea is nothing to you. Only a dot on the world map. A bit of green drowned in all the blue. You’ve outgrown the ocean, I guess. So I can only understand that if you’re big enough now to cross it, the only reason you are not here yet is because you don’t want to be.

I finish off the seashells with a golden pen. And the rest is muscle memory. Fold the letter in the envelope. Push it in the back of the drawer. Place it on top of the stack. Try to forget.

 


Note: This is Day 18 of my NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. You can find the entry for Day 17 here.