Soul-searching.

young adult old soul writing magic realism
Art by: thelunarfeline

“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 😂

Skinned knees.

young adult old soul magic realism writing

Trigger Warning: mentions of injuries, blood and corporal punishment.

At 23, I think I’ve passed the age for skinned knees.

And yet, here I am.

This whole week has been a slow journey back to childhood, no different to how it always is with me, right? I am always returning to these vestiges of the past, attracted to crumbling structures and their stories. Except it didn’t once feel like escaping, like I was swapping my adult responsibilities for memories of simpler days. Instead, it felt like returning to myself, to where it all started. The great wonders of childhood, the great truths in them.

You know, I skinned my right knee so badly as a kid that I still have a scar from that time. It is a raised bump, all scar tissue, that really stands out from the rest of the surrounding skin. To begin with, I already think knees are not very pretty (they’re necessary but awkward-looking). Now having this large scar tissue on my knee is no improvement.

And today, to add insult to injury, I skinned my knee again. As a 23-year old.

It was just a slight graze, lacking any fantastic blood loss. I fell off my own two feet as one does, smack down in the corner of the street. And as I was falling, all I could think was:

‘Wait, am I really falling here, now, in the middle of the street??’

You have to understand that not a minute before I was walking like an independent woman with a new Kate Spade bag (my sister’s, not mine) and the next I was getting up close and personal with dirty bitumen.

When I promised myself I would keep my inner child alive, skinned knees was not what I had in mind. Wonder, creativity, joy…That is what I meant. But as I was falling, I think I also fell back into childhood, the way Alice falls down the rabbit hole.

The burning sensation on my knees and palms, the light sting on my right knee, the trickle of blood and broken capillaries all brought me back to my formative years — not the ones where I was struck on the knuckles, where I emerged head bent, palms burning a fire that was nothing compared to my shame. No, it was not even those days when I futilely crammed mathematical formulae in my head, when I studied without learning much or recited print-outs on exam papers.

The world would want for this to be my formative years. The system dictates that this should be it: my turning points, my significant encounters and the course of all my personal rebirths. But it’s not. And this — this quiet discrepancy, this refusal of the world’s ways is the greatest of rebellions to me.

In this rebellion, in this choice, lies all of me.

No, as I fell into the rabbit hole, I found myself transported back to the gardens of my childhood, to free, blue skies and days that gave me all the liberty to follow the course of aeroplanes crossing the sky and birds taking flight to who knows where. It took me to quiet classes in the school library, encased between tall bookshelves made of golden wood where we would discuss the significance of Thomas Hardy’s “The Going” — hours that saw the unravelling, the rising of my being to new life. I returned to the heart of my own being, who I was before I needed to be anybody.

‘Like Ulysses returned to Ithaca’  my childhood self supplies. Oh yeah, that was a thing. I grew up adoring all sorts of mythologies. Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan… I spent my days wondering about them all.

It’s funny how I walked away from all this without knowing.

Inch by inch then all at once I left these quiet pleasures, these little, potent truths for a world that needed me to be someone else. An obedient student. A good employee.

A trickle of warm blood, a skinned knee like a blood sacrifice and here I am, back to where it all started.

Remember, remember…

Remember who you are and don’t let the world take it away from you again.

In the moments after the fall, after I dusted myself off and got back on the road, shaken, I spoke to the child in me again. Long conversations that did not require many words. Many things became obvious to me; the lies I had fed myself began to fall apart.

Now, I am almost laughing at the me who wrote that she was not sure she wanted to be a writer after all, the me who was still looking for her “thing”. Too afraid of not having what it takes, of the long road ahead, it was easier to look for something else, to not pin all hopes onto this one silly passion…It was more sensible, more reasonable to pursue something less whimsical, more stable, more profitable.

But if money didn’t matter, would I really be going to an office everyday from 9 to 5? If I knew I was dying, would I really be okay with living like this? Would I not want to formulate a plan, a getaway, an adventure?

But I am dying, aren’t I? Aren’t we all?

The real challenge in all of life, in this young adulthood stage is to conciliate the ephemerality of our lives, the suddenness of death with an existence that endures day by day and leaves us feeling secure, complacent in our momentary triumph over death.

‘So, wait, am I leaving my job?’

Not quite. But I am going to make space for adventure. I am going to dedicate time to doing the things I’ve always wanted to do. Like, I don’t know, write a book. Travel the world. And maybe I’ll quit my job too when it starts holding me down.

Who knows what’ll happen?

“That’s the best part,” the child I used to be says “You can walk out the door and have a million different things happen in the time it takes for you to return.”

White dwarf.

young adult old soul writing magic realism

You meet impermanent people in impermanent places, fading, fading into the mist.

You meet dying people, waning humans — people who die as children, as teenagers and who are never reborn. You meet them in the last light of their days before they fall, before they fade. And for one moment, you glimpse eternity in them, in their soft lostness, their innocent erring into the world. You see the fates of millions before them and millions after them mirrored in their existence. In their frail bodies, you glance at a flicker of permanence in a world of ephemeralities.

At the crack of dawn, at no hour, you chase that bit of rawness in them, warmth against warmth, feverish for that last light in them because you know it will die — and you don’t want it to be alone as it does.


Note: “White dwarf” actually refers to the remnants of a star that has died. The “white dwarf” that remains is actually what used to be the star’s core.

Slow Living.

Magic Realism Young Adult Old Soul 9jedit
Art by : the wonderful 9jedit

“Slow living” is a concept I have been reading about for the past year.

For context and in the words of people more qualified than I am on the subject :

“Slow” encompasses several layers of meaning that go beyond simply “sustainable.” Slow is the opposite of “fast” — fast food, fast money, fast living — and all of the negative consequences “fast” has had for the environment and for the health of people and societies. “Slow” embodies cooperation, respect, sustainability, gratitude and resilience.

— slowlivingsummit.org

I have been exploring how others live “slowly”: the careful attention they infuse every aspect of life with(from the practicalities of eating, dressing, consuming to more abstract ideas like living, thinking, creating) and the intention they so mindfully build. All serve as a reminder to slow down as life speeds past us. I have seen these people weave meaning into everyday tasks, into their slices of life so that the routine we are all accustomed to does not become “small” or negligible in any way, like something that you are glad you are done with.

I’ve seen people cherish their Time. Guard it like a temple.

I’ve never wanted to lead the kind of life that makes me say “Thank God It’s Friday” every end of week, as though all the week had been a waste, a drag. Yes, this kind of week happens every now and then. But to have a life that happens to me is not my ideal.

With slow living, I find that everyday is imbued in greater thought—as if the day were a seed you were considering how best to set out: What is the weather going to be like? How do I feed that plant? How do I make it grow? It’s organic, from what I find. And the thought process isn’t meant to be overthinking, not meant to cause worry. It just wants to guide your day to where you want your life to take you.

This is something I often forget in my big-picture-oriented mindset : that life is not just this huge, heaving, mysterious, existentialist, ever-expanding entity. You see, the thing with the big picture is that you can often get lost in it. You see so much that you don’t know where to get started. You don’t know where it’s right to start. Which part of your life deserves most of your immediate attention? Why? And then you start thinking about greater concepts like Time and its constraints and its probable, potential nonexistence. You lose yourself further in this greatness, because however great you are, you are also relatively small.

Some days you are the universe, yes. Other days you are the remnants of a single star. Other days still, you are a face in a crowd.

Slow living makes me realise that. That life is also made of individual days and hours and minutes—none of which deserve to be unremarkable, bland, lacklustre…You don’t have to feel like a face in a crowd even if to the world you are one, some days, most days.

Because it’s about how you feel about your life. How you lead it, regardless of how others perceive it. The everyday can be just as beautiful as the Big Days, is what I am learning. There is much that can be done in a day that is not some major life change. Reading the books you want to read, watching movies that move you and make you laugh, writing, painting, exploring a garden, going cycling, being with friends and family, creating, expressing yourself even if it’s not objectively good. There is so much that makes life worth being lived, every single day. Besides, life can’t all just be Big Events. You cannot derive meaning from the few Big Days then waste your time waiting, waiting for something unexpected to happen. Meaning does not have to come in jerky bursts ; it can be a slow, steady stream following the seasons of life, changing with them.

Slow living is about making the days count. Slowing down and not always taking the highway in life (lots of traffic there), instead taking an interest in the small road that leads to the ocean— a place where you can simply breathe, one slow inhale followed by a shaky exhale. And it’s so grounding.

So it is something I have been trying to implement in my life, to a certain extent. It requires some organisation, will and hard work—but we only have one life here at the very least. It would be a shame to not give it your all. To not go after what you really, truly want because it is hard, because it is uncomfortable.

It’s like the time I found out about magic realism all over again. It felt like looking into a thousand puddles at the same time and seeing myself reflected in every single one of them, if that makes sense. One of my lecturers back then (a really cool person) asked to see everyone’s blogs. With great nervousness and after a lengthy preamble about anonymity did I send him mine. Among other kind things, he mentioned that my writing reminded him of magic realism.

I looked it up and Pfouu!

Mind. Blown.

I think slow living is a natural complement to magic realism. It’s about finding beauty and purpose in the small, everyday things and being grateful for them. Slow living may just be magic realism applied, who knows.

Make no mistake though, I am dying to branch out, too. I find that both magic realism and slow living can give me a bit of a narrow view whenever I dive fully into them. I am in great need of a wider spectrum of life, and will be looking into other ways to live it.


Note : When I say that slow living can give a narrow view, I mean that in my own very personal case. I know there are lots of people out there who lead the most fulfilling lives thanks to slow living, but it is just my personal view that I might need to diversify. Also, I wrote this in February but then convinced myself it wasn’t that good, which is why I am only publishing it now.

Listening to :

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 😂

A piece of the Universe.

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Art by : Michelle Theodore

“Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

This is something Sufi poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi once said. Or wrote, I’m not sure. I just happened upon it one day, like an ancient gold coin glinting in a modern world.

Unconsciously, I have always held the notion that old civilisations were wise. Through their connections with the earth, the spiritual, the travellers of the world, they must have had such knowledge of their own selves. What they lacked in physical comforts, they made up for with the richness of their spirits. This is all, of course, unfounded assumptions, general impressions. In reality, it is more likely that I view them so much as “civilisations” or “peoples” that it does not occur to think of them as individuals. To see them as more than the most illustrious of their people.

Even now, I find it hard to believe that Rumi wrote this for someone of his time, to remedy issues had by people he knew. No, instead, as all marvellous writing ever has, it makes me feel as though it has been written for me. As though it were the solution to all my highly specific, 21st century problems. It fills in all my worries, like molten gold poured over the cracks of my consciousness. It smooths over every wrinkle of thought, each crease of worry.

I cannot believe sometimes that I received it, to speak crudely, for free. Who would give you an old gold coin to begin with? The world doesn’t work like that.

And yet here I have it, a gold coin glinting in my hand. Sometimes I consider my own views on Fate and reflect with deep gratitude that perhaps this is a piece of the universe that was sent to me. Maybe these words made it through the ages and civilisations, crossing borders, surviving modernity and translation to reach me, their meaning unscathed.

My fingers absent-mindedly turn this piece of gold over, mulling, considering, tracing over its engravings. I’m waiting, waiting without knowing how this gold coin will decide my fate once I set it free.