What do you do in your spare time?

magic realism writing young adult old soul kikkujo
Art by : Kikkujo

I woke up to this question today, a remnant of an already-forgotten dream, and it really rattled me.

The idea that there are hours that are valued less or more than others. Does this mean that there is Time that you can afford to waste? To lose like a spare cent or two that you drop on the street, shrugging it off as it is trampled, as it rolls away into the gutter?

Don’t get me wrong, this is something I’ve done countless times: I’ve scrolled my Time away on social media, fed it to algorithms and data structures, and Time has slipped from my fingers, uncaring.

But also, here’s the thing: I’ve loved wasting some of the time I’ve wasted. I have valued “spare” time more than I have other, valuable (working) time. But these are the kinds of societies we are heading towards or live in, already: ones where work is the single most important aspect of our lives, and all our Time is structured around it. Our lives are divided into “Work” and “Non-work” time, where we view everything else in relation to our jobs and take decisions accordingly: meeting up with old friends, dates, romantic relationships, going to an event, dying our hair, getting a piercing.

I don’t think human beings were made for this. For work that takes this big a chunk out of life, that overpowers all its other facets. I don’t think I am cut out for this (and yet, who really is? We are all thrown into it and we cope the best we can. Who really chooses this kind of lifestyle? No, most people just fall into it and never get back up).

Do we truly have “spare” time? Or is it instead that the value of our Time is being decided using criteria we had no choice over — instead imposed by “society”, itself a grey, hulking mass nobody knows the real identity of. There is no such thing to me as spare time. All Time matters. I could not “spare” even one bit of it. I will not let the world define which parts of my life matter. I will choose that for myself, thank you very much.

All Time is valuable, regardless of how you spend it, so long as it enriches your experience of existence.

But at the same time, do not fret (as I did, as I do) once you realise all moments will not be perfect, that you aren’t always able to make every moment worth it. It matters only that you try. That you seize what you can of Time and make it your own.

Unmemorable.

Young adult old soul magic realism writing
Still from the movie “The Darjeeling Limited”, directed by Wes Anderson.

A realisation: you do not actually fear the passage of time. Rather, you are afraid of the responsibility of Time. Time is like a child you have to raise, a blank canvas in your hands. What will you do with it? What will you make of it?

“You are not scared of Time passing by,” I tell myself, “you are scared of not enjoying it. You are scared that you won’t be able to make the most of it. Because you know Time never comes back.”

Tick and tock goes the clock, and your Time goes with it too. Another day has gone and your canvas is blank, still unmemorable. What will it be tomorrow? Time is precious, the day you are given is a treasured blank page— and Ah, how you fear this. How you fear ruining it.

You want to make something worthwhile, something grand and spectacular to prove your worth to others, to the world. So you think and think. You refine ideas, create worlds in your head that you can’t put to paper. You plan and you study and you intend so much.

Simultaneously though, Time is a train you have to catch and you are already running late. All your plans are weighing you down as you drag them around in stacks of luggage you hold too close to yourself. And as you’re running, you hit other people with them and you’re apologetic but you can’t look back. You really have to catch that train. You’re not a bad person, you just want to do well, you know? You just want life to go okay, good even.

You are running and planning at the same time, heaving all these plans until you realise if you are ever going to get anywhere, you are going to have to make that train. No matter the cost, you will have to jump aboard.

And, and the suitcases aren’t going to make it—this is something you only realise mid-jump as the luggage behind you threatens to bring you down, to pull you with gravity and bury you in their weight.

You just have to let go, even as you dig your fingers into the suitcases, your suitcases, even as you break your nails trying to hold on to them.

And then you’re on board finally, but now you have no plans left but the rudimentary ones that you started out with.

And that’s okay. That’s fine. You’ll figure it out.

Time, spare change and pocket lint.

You won’t be hearing from me for a little while, and I hope that’s okay— is something I should have written 3 weeks ago, before my sister’s wedding completely engulfed my timetable, when I knew already that I would be too keen on 2 a.m. conversations and too tired from them to write anything, to want to write anything.

But in my defence, I didn’t worry about it much, entirely too concerned with living the present moment for everything it was. Man, I’ve lived these past 3 weeks. So much so that for a long minute, it seemed impossible that it had been 3 weeks and not 2. It’s like reading a novel and getting really into it, so that when you reach the end, you think : “Is it over already?”. In a way, it makes me think—why aren’t my weeks usually packed with as much meaning? Why is life wishy-washy, the waters so low and still that any movement, however small, becomes a major event? I should always be living. Be it in the great or small ways. This is the kind of battle I am leading these days : pushing meaninglessness out of my life. Making every second worth it.

This is something I’ve realised ever since traveling abroad for the first time, I’ve understood just how much a day can hold. I’ve re-evaluated my perception of Time, and —most amazingly, most importantly— of the realm of possibility. I’m not careless about my minutes now, I don’t leave them behind in my pockets with the lint and stray change, don’t forget them in the slack of the workload. Instead, I string them together like a beaded necklace, giving all moments this continuous flow, where they succeed one another in a stream of events that is memorable, that does not make me feel as though I’ve woken up from a 2 or 3 hour spell, not remembering where the time has gone and who has robbed me of it…

I am the worst planner I know, in my defence. All that daydreaming and world-building has to come at a cost, you know.

But I’m learning. I’m trying. It’ll work out, somehow.

Ennui.

young adult old soul writing magic realism sivan karim
Art by : Sivan Karim

The rumble of the air conditioner is the backdrop to all my office days, in the very same way the rustling leaves are.

But today, the absence of clicking sounds, of fingers tapping furiously at keyboards is the guiltiest noise. The coffee machine does not guzzle, is silent, the water in the dispenser has not changed levels since half the day. Not a ring of the phone, not a knock on the door. Stillness grows like moss in our office.

We all sit complicit in the lie of productivity, hiding behind computer screens that shield our ennui. We’re scouring the ocean floor of social media for depth, on the lookout for fresh news, like a young colourful fish darting in a bareland, an over-exploited area. We drown in shallow waters, racking up skeletal remains of news of interest. Like sand scooped in our palm that is washed away by the currents, and grabbed again, washed away again and again and again.

All of us, bosses and employees alike, forced into unspoken norms, bound by contracts we owe ourselves and each other. If only I could just walk out that door. But I have to be doing nothing much in this specific 25 squared meters of space.

I wonder why any one of us stays. Because we “have” to. Do we, though? Will the world really miss us for a day? Will it not keep on spinning if we are not in that office, not occupying that exact point on the world map?

Years back, I found a video in some forgotten corner of the internet. In it, a man driving a taxi (sponsored by some company) drove around a city packed with commuters, winding between the routines and everyday lives of millions of people. When the taxi was hailed, the driver would ask the people one question, something along the lines of :

“Do you want to get out of here? If you want, we could go on an adventure or I can take you to work.”

At this point, with all the cameras rolling, it had become clear it was no joke, no threat. Yet so many people said no. Perfectly sensible reasons, excuses spilled from their lips (“But I have to go to work”, “Not today, sorry”), regret shone in some of their eyes, and the man drove them to work. And then there were the few who said yes, who, throwing caution to the wind, jumped in. There were no have-to’s, all expectations had been deemed irrelevant.

And the man drove them to the ocean, to the deserts. Arms flailed in joy from the open roof of the taxi, people squealed at the scenery, quietly texting away that they were sick and could not come in to work.

I am not trying to turn this into an absolute. I do not think that the people who turned out the offer were wrong. Not all of them, I’m sure. Some must really have had important projects to deliver, people counting on them to do their work. But some people were just sticking to their routines. To the idea that they have to do any one thing. That they are bound, imprisoned by contracts.

All these years, I silently promised myself that I should not become that kind of a person. I always have a choice. I do not have to stay. I do not have to live a life of convenience and have-to’s. I do not have to give in. I am free to leave, though the price may be high. But in no way will I allow myself to think that I have sold my freedom. I do not have to, I do not have to. I choose to. I always have a choice, though the price to pay for it may be high, exorbitant for some, too much for others.

But it’s always there.

Today I choose to stay. I choose to write instead of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling on social media. I do not feel bad about it, because I chose it. With all the consequences attached to that choice, I take responsibility for the way I live my time. No one has a greater claim on it than I do.


Note : A few times out of a month or two, there will be slow days at work. Days when I have completed my work in advance and stretch the few tasks I have left over several hours. In between, I fill the gaps with some writing, discovering new music, delving into old feelings. It’s a world of its own.

Honouring Time.

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Art by Anna Macht

I’m sorry.

I apologise for all the minutes I laid to waste, all the hours I let slip through my fingers. I apologise for all the days I ignored adventure’s call, when I chose fear over living and let precious youth waste away. I apologise for all the days I stayed in—not to sink in the warm comforts of home, not to enjoy restful solitude, but to lose myself in a nameless void that leaves me with burning eyes and the sinking feeling that I have done nothing for myself. Like I’ve done nothing with the time that, everyday, is loaned to me.

I’m sorry for not going to cafés alone for fear of judgement, for not spontaneously slipping into old, cobbled roads when I wanted to because I let myself be afraid of what could be out there.

Most of all, I apologise for all the people I never met because I did not reach out. I couldn’t bring myself to speak past the lump in my throat, past the bad experiences that make it hard to talk to people. I apologise for all the wonderful lives I’m not living. I’m sorry for not picking up the phone, for not dialling up that number. I’m sorry for not taking up that scholarship offer.

Truly I apologise for all the time I did not honour. I apologise for all the times I believed fear was more important than life, not realising that life is only passing and fear is its death sentence.

I now believe that you stop living when you let fear take over. When you would rather exist in safety than take one step out of bounds. I’ve done that. For years, I let all manners of fear rule my life. Well, guess what? I’ve traversed to the other side of fear. I’ve been through some of my deepest, darkest fears and still I live.

I can hide all I want. The worst will still happen. The day will come when fear barges in through my door, shatters all my walls. And I will not hide.

Caught in Time

“It’s magic, you know; it’s got to be. Maybe it’s just magic we take for granted, and that’s why we can’t see it.”

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Art by: 9jedit

 

Life has really been moving forward lately. Left and right, I suppose it is that period in one’s life where big changes happen. Friends are getting married, moving away, working big jobs, travelling, falling in love. And for once, I have not been assigned to the bleachers : I am doing things I didn’t think I would ever get to do.

I am moving, moving, moving.

Until, that is, I reach the village caught in time.

It is somewhere I have not been in a good number of years : 10, maybe 11. I can still see myself there, flared jeans and a pink plaid shirt, unruly hair braided, sticking out in gravity-defying tendrils. No glasses, that was the time when wearing them was bothersome, when they had not yet become a refuge. The eyes not weighed down by dark circles, by loss or obscurity skimmed all around like a hummingbird buzzing with energy. A still tender face gazed upward, mesmerised even then by that light. The one that escapes through the branches and leaves of the trees overhead, falling generously like a waterfall, the glorious golden light shifting the way water scintillates.

No time has passed since then.

Everything has stayed much the same, as though I had only left the village for a few hours and had returned somewhat older, but not for long. The place strips me of my years, these weights that have been shoved in my hands that I do not know what to do with. Even now, being older than 20, I still feel a little bit 19. I am still approaching my twenties as though an alien notion. Comparing the 20-year-olds I’d met at 13 to the me from now. They seemed so much more advanced in life than I am, so much more grown-up. Doubtless though they were enduring the same inner turmoil.

Or maybe not. Maybe I’m the only one like that.

But who cares about that when you’re 11 and are in a village surrounded by never-ending streams, where seabirds land and take off every other hour; where there is a perfect open space, made to fly kites in. I will be like that sunlight too, I will scatter into a thousand lights, not stopping to warm the foliage and instead dancing with the wind.

I have a small theory about this village. I think it’s not actually real all the time. Sometimes it vanishes for years. You could drive here and at times find only a mound of dust, and no sign of homely houses, of pastoral beauty. It detaches from the earth and flies away, mooring itself to a town with an ocean view for a little while. Wouldn’t that explain the seabirds after all? Maybe they carry it on their backs when they migrate. Who can be sure? I do not know how else to explain it, how this village is so lost in time.

Or how it takes away the years as though they were layers of rust hiding something much younger than it actually looks. It’s magic, you know; it’s got to be. Maybe it’s just magic we take for granted, and that’s why we can’t see it.


Note : This is Day 6 of my NaNoWriMo writing challenge. I’m a bit late this year, but it’s a little harder with work now and trying to figure out publishing times, too. But I’ll try my best to catch up this weekend ! 🙂

A Love Letter

aenami
Art by Aenami

I never realised how in love with the city I was.

My heart has been lost somewhere within its centenarian cobbled roads, scattered in crumbs that I must find to return home, wherever, whenever, that may be. Time has split me into halves and quarters and eighths; now there is always a part of me wandering, living within the city’s walls. Sometimes I run into those parallel versions of me (occasionally the 16 year old me after that bold haircut, at times the 7 year old me hiding behind my sister) and the world flips over, sucking me into thoughts of a past self. Just like that, the world is not what it used to be.

But the city, even though it changes, remains much the same. Its spirit only strengthens with time, and it does not matter how old I am, which parallel world I’m in, the city is always there. It endures. The city will still be here after I die. It will still have versions of me running around in it, or sitting quietly under the shade of a tree, bathed in the warmth of filtered light. The city will still be here even as it crumbles and burns. It is eternal. To have held so many interwoven lives over so much time, it has become immortal, almost.

I didn’t know I was in love with the city until I stopped trying to become something to it. Until I stopped trying to be some other self. I remember when it was that I fell in love with it: that day, I quietly slipped into a backstreet and heard the city breathe, a sound all car horns and fresh breezes carrying the scent of the sea, and without knowing how or when, I breathed with it.