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 😂

The real world.

young adult old soul magic realism writing
Art by: Unknown Artist

“Out of the frying pan into the fire” is an expression we use a lot where I’m from. Not without reason: there are times when you truly believe you have it bad until the situation gets significantly worse and you realise a bit late that there were nastier turns for life to take.

So from the all-too quiet, forgotten village, I have been moved (very much like a chess-piece) to a more strategic location: a city that is not a city but a machine in disguise. Its skyscrapers spit out fumes like a steam engine, in constant demand for more fuel. And the people like me break their backs shovelling in their time and youth and energy — the very marrow of their bones — into the inferno, keeping it burning and churning for everyone else.

This is the fire into which I’ve been tossed. This is the real world. A term I only see people use, by the way, when describing the unfairness of the world, the harshness of working conditions, the disheartening realities of the world at large. And the people who use this term uphold the very laws of the world they are imprisoned in. They accept the world as it is, their conditions as they are. It’s almost as if they do not wish to admit that this is the world they live in, that this is their life. Attempts to dismantle or discredit the system will be regarded as laziness, not-having-what-it-takes, weakness. And the weak are crushed into fine powder.

But alright, I might be exaggerating a tad here. Not everyone there is profoundly unhappy, not everyone is desperate for another world…But however you look at it, this monster-city is a labyrinth, a complex network of channels wherein circulate colonies upon colonies of ants, each knowing precisely where it needs to be at every hour of the day. All follow a schedule, a meticulous routine. And the machine is, in this way, well-oiled, its cogs turning day and night.

I once said I did not want to be a damsel in distress in some glass tower. Well, here I am. At least, for the first few days that’s what I was: knocked off track, disoriented, living  over again the same experience of being in a new place. I run into walls and people, not yet possessing the grace to juggle the many intricacies of this overwhelming (yet in so many crucial ways, underwhelming) city.

But at the same time, I am what I’ve been cultivating myself to be: efficient, productive. Though I cannot say I like it. See, that’s been me all my life. Very much able to fit in the system. I’ve been a straight A student, somehow managed to snag a first class and now I’m handling projects and clients very much on my own. Yet, just because I can cope with longer hours, a heavier workload, working at night and a doubled up commute time does not mean I want to. I sometimes get looks when I explain I do not want to be there, looks that say:

“What are you complaining for?”

Because I’m one of theirs, even if I’m too quiet at times, even if I don’t partake in all their rituals (formal clothes, chronic coffee-ingestion, water-cooler chats…). They cannot seem to comprehend why, if you were able to fit in, you would ever want to be somewhere else.

But I dream, I remember.

I am so far away from the anonymous village I was in before. Far away from its orchards and quietness, its one empty main road always sighing into the heat of the afternoon. And it seems it was in another life still that I was out on a balcony, gazing at the coastal village underneath. It feels like light-years ago, I was strolling by the beach during my lunch break, getting momentarily lost in its concrete roads interspersed with sand. And was it even in this life that I was sighing at The Place with the Flowers? That was someone else, in some other world.


Note: Hello WordPress 👋 Guess who’s backkkk

Putting the stars back.

young adult old soul magic realism writing
Art by: Chootalks

There are times when I need to leave my brain behind.

And I don’t just mean my overthinking, my overly critical mind. But everything. All of my brain, save for practical functions like recognising danger.

I just need to air my mind out, to not carry around all my thoughts and experiences and history with me wherever I go. Because there’s this person I have to be — that other people count on me to be. It is a person I have chosen myself, as we all do when faced with the challenges Life poses us. We all reach difficult situations, turning points where we have to decide what kind of person to be.

Are we the kind of friend who leaves well enough alone when an upset friend assures us they are fine? Are we the kind of person who probes? Are we the kind of significant other who hates conflict, who would rather wait for tension to pass, unaddressed? Or are we the kind of person to meet it head on, ready to make or break? Would we rather be hurt or hurt someone else?

We carry all this and a million more choices in our every step. Because that is who we choose to be.

But I’ve discovered I need a break from my choices.

Whether it is as a friend, a sister, an employee or a young woman, a twenty-something. I need to remove all these skins, these layers of identity and air out my inner self. It does me so much good to be anonymous like this: to be just a girl with no worries or concerns for the day.

So I walk and walk and walk until I can’t feel my feet, until I’ve forgotten they were aching or even there. I go where I want to go. This Saturday, it was an unknown city — a passing place along the motorway where people stop for a while and then…vanish. It’s hard to believe anyone lives here. It feels like a reflection of a city: a wavering image in a puddle somewhere in another world. Maybe this is all a dream, a scene playing in someone else’s mind.

I walk and I explore, I poke my nose in the unknown, tiptoe past too reasonable boundaries set by anxiety.

It feels like opening a window in a closed-off room, like putting the stars back in the sky.

A windy place.

young adult old soul magic realism writing
Art by: Unknown artist

I am enjoying having lunch alone, under the swaying palm trees ripe with the promise of tranquillity, in the windy corridor between building A and B.

I love being here at odd lunch hours, it really cements what this place is about: nebulousness, off-the-mapness, in-betweens. It is the liminal space between the work world and individual life, a bridge where, crossing between two buildings, you stop being an employee for a hot second, the kind that can spill into infinity. You enter building A a worker, spill out into the windy corridor all-too human, all-too much of a star, all-too other and foreign even to yourself. Your self stretches out as though an accordion to showcase its multiple intricate layers, and the palm trees take you away to bygone summers. You are not a name on the payroll before you enter building B. No, you are an in-between, a free spirit. You become a kaleidoscope of yourself and the corridor is the light that shines so it may exist. You don’t think about work, you wonder about possibilities: maybes, perhapses, what-ifs.

I love going there for lunch at around 13:00 (start-up mentality lets me have lunch when I want basically) when the courtyard is free and deserted. For an hour long, it is all mine. Even now during the winter time, when it is too cold to be out, when common sense calls for warmth and safety, I somehow still find myself making my way to this windy place, peering through the gaps between the fronds of the palm trees to catch a look at a strip of sky or moving cloud.

1 p.m finds me gazing into the windows of building A, watching the reflection of clouds pass along one window, disappear into the concrete between the other window, then re-emerge into the next one.

Lunch tastes different too.

My senses are focused, attuned, at peace. I am in the moment as my nails dig into the fragrant skin of a clementine, peeling it and pulling out each plump, juicy wedge translucent with the promise of sweet citrusyness. And the spaghetti tasted more of home than tomatoes, every bite a step further inwards to the cherished, overgrown garden of memories. And oh, the melon iced tea in its glass bottle that tasted so sweetly, so gently of summer.

I wish I had brought a book with me today. It is this wondrous, ordinary-looking setting that has witnessed my exploring of “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran. It is here that I have found myself over and over in his words and even in the spaces between them.

I am going to miss this when I leave one day, invariably. And even as I tell myself that this is neither here nor there, I am reminded that half the year has already passed and that I may well be leaving too soon.


Note: Alternate title for this blog post: “The one where I make up all the words.”😂

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 😂

An imaginary journey.

young adult old soul magic realism
Art by @lilmisch

Do you ever feel that this life is not really yours?

I have this deep, unsettling conviction sometimes that one day I will wake up, and it will all have been a dream.

I must have wandered off one late summer day, probably during a family picnic at the beach. Trying —without knowing— to touch a moment of infinity, to connect to the strange energy swirling inside of me. I tried to talk to the ocean, to understand the hidden language behind its ebb and flow, and the eons-old story it tells.

“Tell me what you know about the stars.” I whispered.

I let the washed up shells guide my steps, imagined waking up within one of them, bathed in a pinkish glow. All around me, the world was telling a story and I was listening. To the winds that told me where they go to rest, to the rocks that have only ever felt life, to the sands that murmured stories of when they were corals settled deep in the ocean.

I must have wandered so far as to get utterly lost. But I was unaware. Too taken by the secret magic of the world to notice. I wandered for years following that inner light, only looking up much later, far away from the beach, from any sounds of laughter, from any comfort of family.

And ever since, I’ve been trying to find my way back. Have been trying to connect to that same energy from that day on the beach, many summers ago, in the hopes that it will take me back.

So far, I have reached a desert, where seashells have been swapped for fennecs and other desert dwellers. The desert sand tells a different story : one of dunes and unfathomable mysteries buried in its breast. And again, losing a few years, I listen.

Once or twice, I think I collapsed from heatstroke. And in between my barely open eyelids, I glimpsed the beach from another world, another time. The backs of the people I love are turned to me, and even though I’m so near, they can’t see me, they don’t even know I’m gone. Or that I will be gone.

But then, on the third time, I wake up.

All the years I’ve lived in the desert dissolve into dust; they were never real. That is how life feels some days. An imaginary journey, something I was too young to embark on, something too dangerous. I’m constantly straying from the things that brought me warmth and comfort, and my whole life is spent seeking that lost haven, never knowing whether I will find it.


Note : Did that even make sense? 😂 I don’t know, but it’s good to be back posting.