Publishing

Young adult old soul magic realism awkward yeti
Art by: The Awkward Yeti

“Get your short story published: it’s good.”

As a writer (welp!), this kind of recognition hits me in the guts. As cliché as it sounds, I missed a breath and a couple heartbeats when this was first said to me. Showing someone your writing means going against any and all survival instinct. It is one of the most counter-intuitive things I’ve ever done. It is the kind of trust that gives me anxiety in a flurry of a thousand questions, like furious wasps released and attacking all at once.

“What if she doesn’t get it?”

“What if she doesn’t like it?”

“What if it actually makes no sense?”

“What if she laughs at it?”

“What if it’s so bad she can’t bring herself to tell me?”

How can anyone reasonably lay out their heart like that? How is it not madness to cut open your chest and let someone else rummage in it? How can you let a stranger into your home, how can you allow them to touch your things, to play your memories when they have no idea how precious they are?

How can you trust someone else to understand who you are?

“If all goes well,” I comfort my trembling inner self, “She’ll tell me it needs a whole lot of rewriting, but.”

But it holds a glimmer of promise.

But it could be good, one day.

But, it has something.

And then, this.

My inner child is SQUEALING. She’s dancing about, going breathless, twisting muscles and not caring. Actually, that’s just present-day me.

I am always in doubt of my ability as a writer. Most days, I feel I haven’t even grasped the basics. English is not even my first language; my French is not always elegant, either. I feel a bit like a fraud. Like I’m making myself out to be more than I really am. I’m calling myself a writer now. What next, introducing myself as an artist, a “creative”?

But this, it’s like a push in the right direction. It’s like someone telling me: “Why are you walking down this path when you should be running along? Give it a try. Don’t hold yourself back. You have what it takes.”

I really want to do that. To try. And I want to believe I can reach somewhere with it. I’m not looking to create an empire or to become famous. But as J.K. Rowling so truthfully put it:

“I would like to be remembered as someone who did the best she could with the talent she had.”

And could I ever ask for more? That is all there is to it: to try the best I can with what I have. Everything else is secondary.

A happy place.

Writing escapril magic realism young adult old soul pascal campion
Art by : Pascal Campion

Their encounter, the summer they had spent together —caught in between afternoon siestas under flowering bougainvillae and warm beaches stirring under summer’s breath— could all be summed up in one moment. It was like accidentally looking into the sun with naked eyes — they were too tender, and the light scalding. Neither of them could hold that light, burning and fierce with the will to live.

Looking back, their relationship (the nature of which neither he nor she could ever bring themselves to settle on— “romantic” seemed too cheap a word for what they shared, “friendship” left a lot uncovered) had happened, in its entirety, in that instant. The one that leaves you momentarily blind, that catches you unaware before you can even think to turn away or flinch. A moment in life when you stumble into something you cannot handle.

The light pierced through their tender hearts as though fragile retinas, burning holes in them every chance encounter, every stolen moment. They snapped away, for the first time feeling the true burn of their encounter, when the first cool night settled in the all-consuming heat of the summer, first her, then him. The gravity of their common mistake fell over their heads like a bucket of ice water, extinguishing any hope of deciphering that odd relationship.

Years later, when they would meet again in a crowded street in some foreign city, passing each other by, they would not know where these burns came from, except from a summer a long time ago, on an island already subsumed by the water. What once was a happy place.


Note: This is an entry for Escapril day 19.

An old friend.

Young Adult Old Soul Writing Magic Realism
Art by Lamiaa Ameen

Athens glanced at her and found she was smiling serenely at the setting sun.

But there was something else in her gaze too: a kind of wisdom, a gentle sadness. She looked at the sun the way you would an old friend who was going somewhere you could not follow. It was a bittersweet emotion and she embraced it wholeheartedly; unafraid to open her arms to the underlying suffering, welcoming the sadness as she did all the sweetness.

He inhaled deeply the scent of the sea. Then with little hesitation bid farewell to the dying sun. And he felt, for one split second, that he understood.

Though he could not put it into words if he tried, for one fraction of that moment in time, light coursed through his pained body, illuminating every single crack, every hidden part of him he had forgotten about…and he understood. He saw himself truly, as he was.

The feeling filled him to the brim, overflowing from his eyes. He could not explain what it was he understood, but he knew that he did and would counter anyone’s logical arguments —including his own— because he knew. Because nothing could feel truer than what he was feeling; he had never been so certain of anything in all his life. He had accepted the truth of life, had timidly embraced the duality of good and bad, and the truth had opened to him. Because he had opened to it.

And how he understood. Everything, all of it, nothing at all. He understood all there was and all there was not as one breath-taking, ever-expanding, nameless entity.

Yes, he understood it all, a breathy voice whispered to him. He understood the world, the moon, the sun, the stars, the gateway to the universe in his own body !

Yet, when he turned to look at her he understood one truth only : that he did not understand her.

26.07.2015 00:51


Note : Guess who’s been digging up old journals? Yup. This is from the most complete piece of fiction I’ve written in my life so far, all hand-written on a notebook, spanning about 52 pages and still incomplete. They were my first real characters too! I spent so much time looking for the names and didn’t even get to a point in the story where I could introduce hers lol. I am so fond of this, however much it may not have aged well.

Interludes with Death

“It happens at twilight, always.
That moment when Death and Life finally crash into each other and Death, demanding as it is, states that it will take her soul.”

ottoschmidt
Art by: Otto Schmidt

It happens at twilight, always.

That moment when Death and Life finally crash into each other and Death, demanding as it is, states that it will take her soul.

“No!” protests Life sharply, “You have taken so many already, just today too, you have spread so much agony.”

“No, I will be the guardian of her soul.” Life says tenderly, “She is lost and tired and I shall make her whole.”

“And you?” seethes Death, “How many have you brought into this world today? How many souls have you sowed for me to reap?”

“No, she is tired and would rather not awake. I will take her soul and give her rest.” Death murmurs, and behind his hard gaze lies, for one moment, something soft.

“You cannot take her!” Life chirps furiously, “There is so much that she can do! So much she will be for others! You cannot remove her from—from fulfilling the truth of her own existence!” Life advances, comes in between her sleeping body and Death.

“What kind of truth is worth this much pain?! What kind of—of happiness is worth it?!” Death roars, and for one split second, something in Life’s brilliant gaze wavers.

Death approaches her but Life stands as a barricade between them. Yet, with a gentle shove, Life is quietly standing on the sides, watching as Death’s firm hands sift through her hair, her fitful dreams.

“Release her, give her back to me. She did not know pain when she was with me, before you took her away.” Death accuses.

“Nor did she know happiness at your side! She did not even know herself!” cries Life viciously, yet not making any move to push Death away from the innocence of her sleeping face.

Ignoring Life, Death recalls:

“She was weightless with me. She knew nothing: no darkness, no pain, no sadness, no anxiety, no hunger. She floated like mist, and went about existing in the purest form, in the most neutral way. She was a star, luminescent, such beautiful energy…

“And now!” Death sneers, spinning to face Life in a flash of fury, face now ugly and contorted in rage.

“Now look what you’ve made of her! You have marred her! Sullied her!” Death accuses.

“What should I have done then?!” Life cries “Leave her to you until the ends of Time, and never let her truth unravel? Never let her see the very light she is made out of?

“But you’ve never known that, have you?” Life silently accuses, something cold gleaming in usually warm eyes, “You’ve never seen her when she laughs or cries, when she sits there, grateful for another day. You’ve never seen her ties with Fate, never, never—”

Death is quiet, thinking of those things he cannot understand, and a certain frustration gains him then.

“But I know them and know she would rather be made to laugh in earnest again.” Life looks at Death, pleading.

“Let her, let her,” Life begs, chirpy voice now even more high-pitched as tears threaten to spill. “You will take her anyway, and I will never again look upon her.” says Life, although there is no bitterness in that voice;  Life has long since accepted that it will always hurt, that Life will always lose over those most cherished souls to Death.

It is all too quietly that Life speaks: “Let her, for her sake and mine, if you care for that life half as much as I do, let her live.”

Something flashes in Death’s light eyes at the sight of her, at Life’s words. There is inner turmoil boiling in Death’s eyes, and for a moment, Death is at war with his own self. His selfish desire to have her at his side again, but the need to protect that life that had existed so purely before… And her truth, her happiness, her ties with Destiny he knew nothing of, except that it made for more luminous souls, souls that lasted into the universe.

Finally, Death huffs in resignation, clicking his tongue at Life in annoyance.

“Fool. I care for that life more than you do; I was there when it formed.” Death sends a final, longing glance at her, not trusting himself to touch her, lest he glanced again through those nightmares, and decided to take her away.

Ruffling Life’s light-coloured hair, Death turns his back with whispered words.

“I will be back for her.”

And in a fog of grey, he disappears.

29.09.15

 

Zara With The Beautiful Hair

longhair
Art by: Unknown Artist

Zara has beautiful hair, as black and heavy as the night.

It is a black so intense that it should not gleam, should not reflect any light, and yet it does. People are in awe of Zara’s hair. There’s always that split second when eyes unconsciously shift to the sheer mass of curls and waves that is her hair. It mostly happens when she takes it out of her bun, and there’s that sudden explosion, like water bursting through a dam, and her hair cascades down her back in ripples, reaching past her hips. It reminds you of something powerful, like Nature reclaiming its rights, in a way. And it all makes her so mysterious, so startling.

She has always been beautiful, in a way the world never failed to notice. High cheekbones, brilliant dark eyes and a sharp tongue. The kind of person you try hard to impress. But people also tell Zara she should do something with her hair. Dye it, layer it, straighten it. But Zara never does. In the most unpretentious way, and yet with a hint of pride, she knows she is beautiful. She does not need to change. Zara is that girl you notice, but more importantly, she is that girl you remember.

Fast-forward a few years, marriage, 2 pregnancies and the drudgery of working an 8 to 5 at the department store have stolen her youth from her. The prominent cheekbones are now a little lost in the pudginess of her face, gained from pregnancy and idleness. The sharp light in her eyes has also dimmed. Zara wanted the dream life, lots of money and lots of travel. But Zara also dreamed of Prince Charming, found him in a humble repairman and occasionally in one of the buff guys on TV.

Zara is not the same person you remember from 5 years ago—dazzling, intimidatingly beautiful. Zara is the person who works the cash register with a weary smile. But ah, Zara is still Zara with the beautiful hair. People, even now, are not aware that they stare. But Zara knows, Zara has always known. She is Zara with the beautiful hair, and the world will notice her, the world will remember her. Even when she is old and grey, and her hair has all but gone, she will always be Zara. The kind of person too beautiful to approach, too mysterious even until the very end.

A Collection of Microcosms

JulianCallos
Art by: Julian Callos

I am collecting worlds.

Rolling them lazily around the spaces between my fingers, like marbles instead of the microcosms that they are. With a nonchalance that betrays ennui. And an ennui that hides authentic interest— layers, walls, one step away from the truth, always.

With these, I can make it rain even on the driest of days. I can turn life around, stop the orchestra and make it perform my own arrangement. All this when I am tucked away, away, in a small room. Inside a marble-sized world.

So which world will it be today?

A world of rainy days? A world of the upside down? A world of prairies and hills? A world of rooftops, of only the colour blue, of dawns and dusks, a world of too many moons and not enough stars, a world of lace and umbrellas, a world inside a snow globe, on the back of a postcard? Oh but what of the worlds of never-ending roads, or the ones of bookstores and libraries?

Drastically different though they are, they are all alike in one way: there’s never anyone in them.

I collect worlds. But never people.

People are messy. People mix colours you’ve tried hard to keep apart. They ruin skylines and solitude. People wreck your worlds.

But there, in these worlds, where nothing exists but itinerant thoughts, the slightest sound from the outside is a deafening roar.

So the only solution to escape is to go further inside, to lose yourself deeper and deeper into the streaks and striations of these marble-sized planets.

 


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:

 

Getting Cold

 

cold
Photo by: Unknown

There is a scent of vanilla floating in the cold, damp night.

And a warmth like a fireplace beckoning me over. One by one, everyone is pulled out of their rooms like moths to a flame.

If the kitchen was warm before, it is much warmer now with all these bodies so close together.

Without warning, the stove is on and the smells of tea and hot chocolate are suffusing the air. If it was almost uncomfortably warm before, the kitchen is now sweltering. Nevertheless, hot mugs are being passed around. Chatter is lighting the small kitchen up.
And the cake that brought everyone here in the first place is being sliced, the delicate fumes wafting in the air.

And as I take all this in: these content faces, the gentle laughs, the simple happiness of it, all I can think is how long until this all ends?

If the kitchen was sweltering before, it is much colder now.


Note: Day 12 of my NaNoWriMo writing challenge

A Tale of the Desert

“Land is the kingdom of man. And yet there is no king in the desert save for nature itself. Where man intends to stab a flag and build castles, the desert swallows his pride in storms and blows away his fortresses as though they truly were made of sand, a child’s construction.”

wallup.net

We cleared out the garden today, the one on the rooftop. I hadn’t cared much for it before, except for the nights I’d needed to get away and had needed to mind my step.

I was on dirt duty, having to sweep away the mess of a garden unkempt for so long. There were heaps of very fine dust that had accumulated into dunes almost everywhere, most of all the corners. I hadn’t known dirt could shine so prettily in the sun, like gold dust or bits of precious stones. The sun beat down on my neck as I swept the dust away, sweat already glistening on my forehead.And suddenly, like a child, the mundane chore turned into an adventure. I was in the desert.

Often, people who have spent extended periods of time in the heat and utter isolation of the dunes, they cannot describe it. And yet, it is within human nature to always try. There is nothing like the desert, they say. Nothing like this overpowering nothingness, this capricious nature that will soothe as it will kill. They say it is a world of its own, a planet distant from Earth. The desert, if it were comparable to one thing, it would be the ocean. But even then, the desert is not like the seas. Land is the kingdom of man. And yet there is no king in the desert save for nature itself. Where man intends to stab a flag and build castles, the desert swallows his pride in storms and blows away his fortresses as though they truly were made of sand, a child’s construction.

I imagined the desert was lonely. So vast, so empty, yet brimming with restless energy.

The desert was once human, I thought as I swept away. She was a young human of learning and knowledge who yearned to make beautiful things. As the gods did.

She voyaged nights and days, sacrificing years and the quiet happiness of selling books and maintaining a garden. She went east and west and wherever the road would take her, on a pilgrimage that lasted many years. No one in her village had heard of her in a long time. They spoke of her, on those long, cold nights when they all gathered around the meat cooking over a crackling fire. The children delighted in the stories, quiet wonder gleaming in their eyes.

Unassuming during all her youth, save for her brilliance and crafty spirit, she was a gentle soul. Her parents had died shortly after she had come of age. After that loss, there was something that shone sharply in her eyes. A fire greater than the one that had claimed her parents. A fire greater than they could ever extinguish.

Then one day, she went to the chief’s house, a bag brimming with scrolls and books slung across her shoulder. She emerged, painted in the colours of their people, red and azure dotting her forehead and cheeks. Her hair was braided in intricate knots only the old mother remembered.

She went, as though a conqueror.

As plain as she had once been, she was beautiful now. The hazel of her eyes burning against the dark brown of her sun-marked skin. And after that, she was never seen again, the old man would tell the children huddled around the fire.

Yet, unbeknownst to them, she reached. She reached where she needed to be.

And she roared. Roared and roared her anger. Years, years of research only to be shunned at the doors of the heavenly light. Deep marks covered her face now. The sun had eaten away at her youth, her beauty. Her fingers threatened to pull out her black hair (browned at the tips now, what would be a sign of ugliness in her village) as the acrid tears fell.

“Why would you deny me light?!” she cried, and in that moment, she was young and tender again. Wounded. A girl with no parents, not anymore. A girl with a dream to be a god. To heal others, to heal herself. To give light and beauty when there was darkness. The same darkness that had once overpowered her, stricken her from the inside all those years ago.

“Let me be light!” she roared and cried and tugged at her hair, “Let me be light!”

But when they did not grant her wish, when her years, her knowledge, her beauty had been sacrificed for nothing, she raged. If you will not let me be light, I will be the world instead. If I cannot shed light to the world, I will become the world, I will decide its fate instead.

So with her knowledge, she summoned an old demon, sly and willing.

“Let me be the world.” she had asked.

The demon narrowed his yellow eyes. “I do not have the power. I cannot make you into the world when you have not walked all its lengths nor climbed all its heights.”

“Then,” she thought, that quick, beautiful mind spinning, “make me into the world of here. Give me this land here, that I have walked for all my life, from the north to the south, from where the sun rises to where it sets.”

“Very well.” the demon had smiled.

And for that wish, he took all of her.

The desert now, is her. Oases are said to be the places she could not visit or the places she held too dear. Her old village now was dust and bones.  But she always protected the sons and daughters of her people. Although now, she had lost so much of herself she could not remember why she did so.

That is the desert: vast, lonely, capricious.

A desert that does not understand itself, but rages at an old wound that cannot be remembered.


Note: Day 1 of  (sortof) NaNoWriMo

 

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.