The things people leave behind.

Rebecca Mock Young Adult Old Soul Magic Realism
Art by: Rebecca Mock

A mug with the face of someone’s fiancé on it, a pair of size 40 sneakers, a mini Buddha statue, an umbrella branded with the logo of a sports meet, summer festival stickers, cables, a Chinese piggy bank named Marge, waxy plastic leaves, an inflatable parrot that can fit on your shoulder, printed quotes.

What do all of these objects have in common?

Well, they are all things people have left behind in the small open office I work in.

Nearly 3 months have passed since I was last in this claustrophobic place and its garishly yellow walls, its comparably drab grey carpet.

During that time, life had seemed frozen, struck by an immovable force. But life finds a way, always, even during the most desperate situations. So in the midst of this great immobility, life managed to happen in defiant trickles and uncharacteristic daredevilry, as though people lusted for life, were consumed by desire for it. Disease and fear, closed shops and confinement held most of us back but still, still there were weddings and breakups, fights and reconciliations, people left their jobs, others became their own bosses.

Now, three months later, life is rushing back to all of the places it used to inhabit, still furious with the unspent energy of three months’ isolation, like a tide that had too long being held back from joining the sea. People are running again into the arms of the normalcy they had been forced to leave behind, eager again for the spell of habit, the comforts of routine and a life with as many pre-filled blank spaces as possible.

Two people have left  — the office, the job, the shared time and space vortex of a corporate position — and since they quit during the lockdown, it is as if they had disappeared suddenly or better yet, never existed at all. They have been erased, only the eraser dust that are these odd objects a testament to their ever having existed.

It is shocking to me how easily we picked up after that, how quickly we filled in their absences, like potholes on the road in a particularly well-governed country. Soon after, we went about as if nothing had happened.

It’s scary.

You can give so much of yourself over so many years, dedicate your time and weekends, sacrifice parties and dinners, give up relationships for it all to mean nothing once you leave. You can build the most elaborate sand castle, but someday the tide will come for it.

But these odd objects are there, reminders to us; to them, things they will not come back for.

It leaves me feeling incomplete, faced yet again with the realisation that life does not always end neatly. Circumstances do not tie off reasonably well, in line with any character arc or plot point. People come in and out of your life abruptly. There one day, gone the next. Life is jagged and out of control. You think you have mastered it, successfully tamed its waves into serviceable currents. But life, like the ocean, is wild at heart. It swells and falls through no will of your own and while you may navigate it, you will not overcome it.


Note: So, it’s been a month since I last posted, but let’s not dwell on that 😂

Listening to:

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.”

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.

Doing the thing anyway.

young adult old soul magic realism writing

A list of things I have done but have been unable to write about:

  • Dyed my hair purple
  • Attended a writing workshop
  • Signed up for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award
  • Attended a good friend’s wedding

Some, more than others, were impulse decisions. Eff-it moments when I decided my fears didn’t matter, recognising somewhere that I would be more myself once I had discarded them, because my fears aren’t necessarily me. Not when they stop me from doing what I really want.

So, hey, purple hair. Writing workshop. Volunteering every Saturday night with a group of young people I don’t really know. Yay.

Needless to say, I regret it all at least once a week.

In the mirror I see copper-brown strands, the purple long washed-away. I tug at it self-consciously and wish my hair could be all black again. Every Saturday evening, I am quietly quivering at the notion of having to interact with a group of young people who are all friends, whilst I am a new addition.

I’m always wishing I hadn’t done any of it. Because after my one moment of foolish bravery is over, my fears are back at my side again, nagging. My anxiety finds something to keep me up at night, to convince me that I am wrong to not be panicking.

Still, I am not dyeing my hair black. I even catch myself liking the glint of the sun on these select light-brown strands of hair.

Still, I am calling every Saturday to know where the group is meeting up. And when one homeless person gushes about how the macaroni we served were the best he’s ever had, or when another takes some for his two daughters, I’m happy I was there to help.

My fear wishes I hadn’t done any of it. But I, I keep doing it anyway. I keep moving forward, and discarding fear like yesterday’s fashion. I regret and complain and most of all, I know better. I understand that who I want to be takes precedence over any anxiety I might have. My time is limited, am I really going to spend it all cowering?


Quote of the day : 

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

—Mary Schmich

 

A writer.

young-adult-old-soul-writing-cadmiumyellowdeep-
Art by : cadmiumyellowdeep

Since I stopped being a child, I’ve always taken care to keep my dreams and the real world separate.

Even if I would dip my toes back in the other worlds on bus journeys or open a window into daydream in the middle of class, both these worlds were left relatively estranged, sealed off from the other.

By day I slipped into reality and meandered down its labyrinthine alleyways. By night I flew into dreams, and strange visions awakened in me, tickling parts of my psyche I did not even know were alive. It felt strangely like I was sectioning myself, partitioning two opposing sides. Without need for any foul concoctions, I had somehow landed myself into a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde kind of conundrum.

And yet, one without the other was incomplete : the real world without dreams felt hollow ; dreams that were not grounded in reality lost their meaning, fading like smoke in a gust of wind.

Still, it had to be done. My dreams were far too great to ever achieve. I didn’t, couldn’t possibly have what it takes — everyone else said so. Or rather, they didn’t have to. Their deep-held beliefs spoke for themselves. You see, my dreams bled into life every time I held a pen and while that meant I was good at languages and writing, it was not a very special skill to have. Everyone can write. Millions of people master two languages. At any point in time, your skill and therefore you, are replaceable. There are countless other people who are better at it than you anyway, who’ve been doing it for longer. How likely would it be that of all the writers in the world, I would be the one to make something out of my writing ? Not very, apparently. So if you have a replaceable skill like that, don’t turn it into a dream. Don’t take it seriously. Try something else, and do some writing on the side, if you want.

That’s what it started out as : “Writing is not a real skill. Languages are easy. Only the very few people who are really good at it ever succeed.”

For my own good, I should not dream big. I should settle for some average occupation or the other, safe in the knowledge that I would never have made it had I followed the inconsistent path of dreams. I would have lost momentum halfway through and would have fallen flat on my face. And yet, in spite of all that being drilled into me, in spite of me telling myself these things, dreams kept spilling onto the well-constructed reality others had built for me.

Disbelief met with determination, and after many years, my dreams infiltrated reality, and I am now a little of what I thought I would never be : a writer.

It didn’t turn out exactly how I pictured it, but it is what it is and it is more than what I ever thought I would get.

The greatest point of tension is that now the two worlds do not mix well. They are each wary of the other, unused to being anything but two separate entities. Now that my dreams are grounded in a kind of reality, I don’t know what to do next. I cannot tell apart the dreams I have just for the sake of having them from the ones I actually want to bring into the real world.

I mean, is writing even my thing anymore? I just happened to be good at it and did it. Could it be I’ve yet to find my “thing”? I don’t know.

I cannot keep being content, stagnating in the kind of joy I am experiencing now.

Because I am being gifted a luxury very few people have the privilege to experience : I have a little bit of everything, and the winds are in my favour. I have some time, some money, perspective, freedom, support… I am being given everything I need to achieve my dreams.

The question is, do I even have one?

I’m not sure what I want. All this time I’ve told myself dreams were impossible and now it turns out they aren’t all that unusual here in the real world.

It’s that feeling, you know, when you just want to make something out of yourself. It would be such a waste not to.

 

High Hopes.

Young Adult Old Soul Magic realism Pascal Campion
Art by : Pascal Campion

Already 3 weeks into the year — 49 more to go. Time has started moving again, slowly, like a frozen river which, under the golden warmth of the morning sun, trickles timidly to life. The holidays are over, and now even their spirit begins to fade. Do you also feel like the year’s only truly starting now? Like the first week of January is a mock week, a rehearsal for the real thing?

Speaking of which, my cold London adventures are slowly warming under the tropical sun. Soon, the chocolates I brought —already melty now— will run out. So will the shortbread, the doughnuts, and the new clothes will no longer be new. Everything will slowly acclimatise, losing that delicate, intriguing foreignness that is so dear to me. And Time will flow again. Warmth will surge from within the rivers, breaking through the thin, already fragile layer of ice and Time will gush again through February and March and April and all the rest.

I have no plans for any lulls in the flow of my Time, no pitstops planned. (Although my sister is getting married in April, which means I get to see many people I hold dear. And well, Time is sure to cut me some slack then). But until then and afterwards, I want to fill my year with little celebrations and small events; everyday adventures that bring meaning to life.

So now, I have a growing “To-Watch” list, which includes Studio Ghibli movies I have not watched, a re-watching of “Her” by Spike Jonze, “Lost in Translation”, “A Star is Born”, Wes Anderson movies, “Silence of the Lambs” (Curve ball!), “Loving Vincent”, a re-watching of “Before Sunrise” and all the Agatha Christie’s Poirot I can get my hands on. And add to that a “To-Read” list that is much more varied.

Because I am making this year count. Not just in the big days, but in the many, many small ones too. I am endeavouring to not waste this barely noticeable, difficultly remembered string of everydays that makes up the bulk of an average life. So this way I can look back at the year with a warm, nebulous feeling, not knowing how to explain why these innocuous days I cannot pinpoint on a calendar ( What was I doing March 30th ? And August 10? And…) make me feel so whole.

I really believe that the days I am hoping to be blessed with are going to be good. Because I am setting out with intent, channelling what good there is in me. No matter what happens, it will be good. Somehow, somehow.


Listening to :

Kraken of Consumerism

consumer
Gif by: Unknown

It’s strange how you realise you don’t want something until you have it.

I suppose it is the equivalent of “You never know the value of something until you’ve lost it.” that I never saw coming.

Lately, I feel like I am growing increasingly singular, that I am going waist-deep into larger-than-life concepts, espousing new ways of being that I don’t always know how to explain. What I have understood so far is this: I am growing tired of restless consumerism, of consuming for the sake of consuming, of always being hungry, always eating, and yet never feeling sated.

I am hating how consumerism is the default way of existing, that we consume as an automatism, never fully conscious of what we are doing. I mean, how many times have you bought something only to later realise you did not need or want it? That it didn’t fit you, that it would never serve you any purpose? Or the way we consume our time—haven’t you ever been idling about, and then somehow, found yourself waking up from a spell, realising that you’d been scrolling through Facebook or Instagram for an hour now and that, try as you might, you could not really say what it was you were doing?

And I don’t think it’s about consumerism itself, but rather about the way we consume things. Like an automatism. Without thinking. Without needing it, really. Or needing it just for the sake of having it, then moving on to greater things to consume.

I cannot help but feel that that kind of consumerism steals our consciousness away from us. Makes us black out and ignore the world and our natural selves as we become monsters, krakens of consumerism without knowing. We don’t know that we’ve changed or what we’ve become because we don’t know what we’ve been doing. And it’s such a vicious circle, this wanting. This hunger that is like a black hole, a void that can never be filled even as it sucks you in, even if it were to have the whole universe.

I don’t want that anymore.

I want my time back. I want to see where I am going.

Although at the same time, this revelation does not come alone. It brings with it other truths, uncomfortable facts that I do not wish to deal with. Not yet, at least.

A Lie Beautifully Told

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

KazuhiroHori_flood
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.”

anwitacitriya
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.

 

You Don’t Look Your Age

“Every birthday journal entry since has featured the same kind of sentence: “I don’t feel older. How can I be turning 20 when I don’t even feel like I am 19?” […] It felt like the equivalent of celebrating a loveless marriage —an age-less birthday.”

juliaborzucka
Collage by: Julia Borzucka

Today I woke up 20 years older than I was yesterday.

What I hadn’t achieved in all the years since I had turned 18, had happened to me overnight: I had gotten old. Ever since turning 18, all of my birthdays have been meaningless. The time just never seemed to pass. I never felt a year older. I felt the days as they passed me by, but never the years. I never felt 19 or 20 or 21. I could never say how old I really was without confirming with myself first: “Is that how old I’m supposed to be? Is that the number I’m meant to say?”

Every birthday since has been me wondering why all these other people were cheering me on, getting me to cut a cake when nothing had happened to warrant that. Every birthday journal entry since has featured the same kind of sentence: “I don’t feel older. How can I be turning 20 when I don’t even feel like I am 19?”

“I used to think the years would go by in order, that you get older one year at a time. But it’s not like that. It happens overnight.”
— Haruki Murakami, Dance, Dance, Dance

I was not older. Somehow, time had passed and I was still trying to catch up with it. To me, it was like celebrating a cargo ship that had arrived empty. It was just a ship that had gone around the sun for a year and had absolutely nothing to show for it. It felt like the equivalent of celebrating a loveless marriage —an age-less birthday.

The years go by too fast. And I once wondered whether it would change anything if I could be 20 for 2 years, for 730 days. I mean do you realise that you only ever get to be one age for a year? (Even so, I feel like I was 17 longer than I was 20. Although I once heard that it’s because the older you get, the more…relative time seems? Because when you were 5, you were living a fifth of your life, which is not much, and now you’re living one twentieth, one thirtieth of it. So it seems like less time in comparison to the whole of time that you have had. I mean, it explains why a year seems like an eternity to a child, but very little to an adult. Does this mean that the older we get, the less whole we feel, the more fractured we are? I don’t know). But if the years were twice longer, and our lifespans remained the same, what would we be like by the time we turned 50?

This next birthday though, I will feel the full weight and strength of all these years on my shoulders. These additional 20 years will show on my face, all these sands of Time dragging down the skin under my eyes, then my voice, my heartbeats.

I understand, now.

How it is that I can have friends who are having children of their own and how others still have curfews to respect. I understand, in a way that is all too real, that it is not ever the number of years that counts.

Age strikes you in seconds, minutes.

Still, still— what a shame that I’ve outrun Time.