Loneliness Doesn’t Need An Excuse

I’m the sort of person that needs a lot of time. I don’t know how to place it. You meet people and it’s great. There is a moment where an exchange is sought after and realised, and the idea of interaction is made beautiful again. But it always saddens me that the people you meet have the potential to pass you by on the street four, five years in the future and just totally ignore you. I think we know that feeling. It is as if the time and space that your paths once intersected never mattered at all to them.

Or perhaps the intersections did matter, but both parties assumed the worst of the other and so they walked past, not saying anything, never betraying the slightest tilt of the head in passing. They may still hold the itch of yearning deep within some wounded recess but alas, this desire never meets the surface. Who knows for sure?

To say that I enjoy loneliness comes with its own baggage. At one point of our lives (or our day) we will feel that we deserve loneliness. Too many people around, too many interactions, too many frivolous notions being passed around like night snacks to hungry recruits. The time to be lonely will come soon if it hasn’t yet arrived; after all, loneliness doesn’t need an excuse. Loneliness doesn’t have to be physical, just like love or hate doesn’t have to manifest itself in hugs or punches, loneliness is a state of mind. Loneliness can be felt in the warmest of situations, the most crowded of rooms, the longest of WhatsApp messages, the tightest of hugs and the wettest of kisses. Don’t doubt me on that one. Loneliness is something you’ll have to work around your life.

I think I’ll need more time to figure myself out. Be with people, be alone, be with people, be alone. I don’t want to do things with agenda (the idea of that sickens me) and I don’t want to rush into knowing people because that doesn’t go down well in my dictionary (I of all people should know that people need time to open up). 

There is no conclusion to this post from me, but I leave you with this poem that someone shared with me. The ideas are nothing new, and it is these ideas that we hold within our chest and keep us awake at 2 in the morning. I’ve read it a second time since and there is a certain harmony in the sense of loss, how loneliness is used to incapacitate and heal all at once. It is this ambiguity that attracts me to such ideas. 

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All credits to Alfian Sa’at, this is one of his earlier works.

And also, I’ve been down for the past three days with a bad case of flu and sore throat. Please, please, please don’t evolve into a fever or any other monstrosity; I want to feel ok again.

Three Thoughts on Week One

The higher you live, the more opportunities you’d be exposed to.

Why is this so? It’s simple really, and you’ll have to step into the lifts to understand this. When you live on the higher floors, strange things happen in the lifts. Firstly, you’d be exposed to more human influx. Inevitable, because it takes more time, and way more floors are passed on the way up. So if you live on the 7th floor, you’d be meeting less people on a daily basis than if you live on the 17th. It may not make much of a difference if you look at each elevator ride individually vis-a-vis the entire day, but if you place it on a larger canvas, of say, an entire semester, you’d be talking about approximately a thousand elevator rides, and that would be a thousand chances of exposing yourself to more people being ever so subtly extinguished.

And also, living on a higher floor allows you more time to look through all the posters stuck on the walls of the lifts. They announce different CCA’s, events, and basically a throng of opportunities to place yourself out there. Miss these bulletins and you’d be missing out on a huge chunk of college life. Word of mouth and Facebook posts do make the cut sometimes, but there is a certain romantic notion behind chancing upon your passions during those leisurely elevator rides. Again, the chances of that are subtly narrowed the moment you live on a lower floor.

Of course, the moment a fire breaks out on campus, all the above arguments tend to burn spectacularly to the ground.

Say no to spicy food

To me, eating spicy food is like talking to the ex-girlfriend you thought you still had a chance with. It seems like a good idea and the food actually looks appetizing until you place it in your mouth and realize why you had avoided spicy food all along. The hurt isn’t worth the revisit, but somehow we put ourselves through it again and again.

Thought of this when I suggested Thai food for lunch with the folks. Man, it was quite the burn.

(Of course, I’m a sensitive little crackhead when it comes to chili, so this only applies to the likes of me.)

Always be contented with yourself, but never with your situation

Here comes the deeper end of this post. I’ve always thought that to improve you’d have to look down on yourself and constantly degrade your abilities. I did this a lot back in JC until it dawned on me that the whole idea of self-degradation is very exhausting.

Meeting a lot of cool and talented people for my first week of school has shown me that you can be out of your comfort zone but still be contented with the person you are and the abilities you carry around with you. It’s quite evident in the way a lot of them carry themselves around. It’s sort of an innate competency thing you have to believe you own; because let’s face it, if you don’t believe in yourself nothing will ever be done to the best. You’ll always cut yourself short and feel like you were never meant to be good enough. You either believe and achieve or look down on yourself and remain mediocre. There’s no third option for these things, I feel.

Of course, the part that makes more sense is the feeling that I’m nowhere near where I want to be. My current situation is something I’d never be fully contented with; a lot of my dreams are left unfulfilled; ideas are sill wedged deep in my mind waiting for some avenue of release. Sure, I’ve done some cool stuff but there’s so much more stuff I haven’t done that I’d like to do. I just don’t feel like I’m anywhere near what I want my future self to be like, but that’s ok (“I’m a work in progress, but that’s ok” is the quote that comes to mind).

It’s important that I don’t confuse the idea of “self” with the situation I’m in. I can be unhappy with my situation, but never, ever with the person I am. I’ve promised myself that many times, because you only have one life to be yourself, so to be unhappy with this person you are would be greatest disability one could harbour.

So yes, be happy with who you are, but never be contented with where you are.

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Also, this quote.

Ok. Week one is over, and honestly I’m still not sure what to expect from the coming weeks but here’s to hoping for a smooth ride (as if that will happen).

This is Home, Surely

It was a few minutes after five that she started thinking about how it all went wrong for her.

She sat alone on a stiff couch as the evening light penetrated the makeshift living room. It was a couch meant only for one person, and there she sat, stock still as the images of celebration flashed on the television before her.

The one room flat she lived in was old and in a state of eager decay, the paint flaking off the walls and seemed to writhe like fresh earthworms when viewed from certain angles. Things she used to own were packed in stacks as high as five feet; old rice cookers that have gone beyond repair, newspapers from a time long gone, old shoes and clothes that her only son used to own. She could not let go of these little reminders; it was all she owned from her past life.

A basic trip to the toilet would mean she had to weave between the towering stacks. She would pass by the portrait of her late husband, tucked in a lonely corner between the rusty fridge and the light controls to the kitchen. Her husband was a tall and handsome man when they first met, and in her eyes, still the tall and handsome man on the day that he died. They were by each other through it all, knowing not what was ahead. They had met in 1969, on a sweltering afternoon in June. It was a student rally and they were from brother sister schools. She smiled as she recalled the exact sequence of events. Her memory felt like the only thing she truly owned. The nation was still young at that time, not much older than their love for each other, and much less certain of what was to come, an entire country tried to pull itself together for its one shot at showing the world what it could do.

On the television, the parade had started. Troupe after troupe of dancers and performers streamed onto the grounds, while a sea of red surrounded the entire procession. The Singapore flag was scattered about like insignificant birdfeed, and in the hands of the audience were a thousand more flags being waved frantically by parents, children, white collar workers, troubled youth and the lonely elderly. Within that sea of red, every last negative emotion was readily extinguished and replaced by unquestioning elation. At least, that was how she saw it. Age does turn one cynical.

She shifted in her seat to relieve her stiff back, leaning her left elbow more firmly on the armrest. From the little box that was her television, soldiers started to spill onto the parade ground; they marched with crisp precision and had hardened faces, faces that looked almost identical under stiff headdresses. It reminded her of the day her son enlisted. He had to spend three months on a lonely island off the east coast of Singapore, and in many ways, it was the loneliest three months she had to face. Uncertain of how things would turn out, nothing her husband whispered into her soft ears could replace her fears, could never convince her that her son wasn’t about to be changed for the worst.

After the President had inspected the contingent, the soldiers proceeded to march off. There was a pompous display of military strength, but was there a single reason to believe that the soldiers appreciated this the same way the nation did? She suddenly thought about the early years of her marriage, being relocated out of her simple Kampong, living in a small HDB estate in Toa Payoh. There was nothing to look forward to, yet everything. The future seemed like a wad of PlayDoh; it was entirely up to them to mould it with patience and creativity. Such was the promise of a young nation.

But the initial promises were merely the veneer for the underlying struggles the nation was still attempting to overcome. If the nation looked to be struggling, you could bet the people had it harder. In the span of a few years she worked manual jobs ranging from a worker in soft drink factory to a clerk in a clothes-manufacturing warehouse. Sometimes the shifts stretched on for twelve hours at a time. All this time her husband attempted to start a coffee business, one that failed bitterly by the eighties. She would come home to a man clutching a bottle of Tiger beer in one hand and his face on the other. It hurt her in ways she could never (and perhaps should never) put in words. His failings crippled him with guilt, and it was never resolved until later in his life. Those years which they should have spent in happiness were thus lost in a cloud of forced kisses, turned backs and tense nights.

The sunlight withdrew from the living room, shrouding her in dim twilight. The sky over the parade darkened in equal correspondence, and the melody of home played on screen, the local singer belting out the high notes with utter conviction, the crowd echoing her efforts and the sounds of independence resonating beyond the parade grounds. Everybody in the crowd seemed to have his or her place all of a sudden. The cameras panned to individual faces, mouths wide open, lost in the tune of the song, lost in the idea of a common identity.

Where do I stand in all this? Shoved to this obscure corner of the nation, stuck in the most basic of housing estates I cannot help but feel so, so lonely. Not a single person has visited me since my son left all those months ago. My husband is gone. Not a soul has bothered to ring my doorbell, nobody to ask me how my day went. All these people on the screen cheering in unison, warm families huddling together at home in their little private space, light from the television spilling gently onto their contented faces. What about me? On this day that I should be with the ones I love, I have made the most harrowing realization. There is no one. There is no one to love.

 

The doorbell rang. The deep chime cut through static silence.

She was startled, so startled she almost slipped out of her skin. Someone has bothered to ring my doorbell.

 

Trembling, she hauled herself up, and dragged her heavy feet along, inching closer to the door. She reaches the door after considerable effort.

“Who is outside?” She asked.

“It’s me. I’m home.” It was her husband’s voice. She could recognize it from a mile away, and there was no mistaking it. In the deep recesses of her soul, she felt something shrivel up.

“You have finally come home,” she replied. Her voice was trembling uncontrollably, and she found herself hardly able to stand. Still, she did not open the door. It was her husbands’ voice, but she knew her husband might not be on the other side. Didn’t she just see him die a few months ago? Put to the test, could the human heart really conjure up what it yearned most dear?

“Yes I have,” replied the voice. “How have you been doing?”

“Lonely. Everyday has been a struggle. I am old, and with each passing day I cannot help but feel like I need you here more and more. Is your stepping through this door too much to ask?”

There was a brief pause, before the voice spoke again. “I really want to see you. Just open the door, mom.”

Before she could understand the implications of that statement, she had already unlocked the brass handle and opened the wooden door.

A man in his forties stood outside. He was wearing a polo shirt and bermudas, his hair styled in ridiculous pomp. In his hand he held a small cake, and there were seven lighted candles sticking out of it.

It was her son.

She felt a harried mixture of embarrassment and intense warmth spill down her chest. It had been her son’s voice all along. She stepped forward into his embrace, the son managing expectations by balancing the cake carefully.

“I thought you were in America? What about your job?” She inquired after stepping back. They had not met since the funeral.

“Happy birthday mom,” was all he said in reply. There was a soft glow in his eyes and the warmth of the candlelight. She gripped the doorknob so hard her knuckles turned white.

He continued, “don’t ask me why, but I had to be back for this, the thought of you spending your birthday alone was just… I just couldn’t let that happen at any rate. Sorry I am late; it was quite a rush from the airport. It must have felt terrible just sitting in there alone. But hey, I’m here.”

The son stepped into the house, and supported his mother by the shoulders. She put her hand around his waist, and both were stuck in a ridiculous waltz as they pranced towards the couch. She felt the tension in her chest ease off with every step he took, holding her tightly, the image of her husband still faint on the walls of her mind.

Mother and son sat around the cake, both faces glowing in the candlelight. The entire room was dark. It was just the two of them with the dim glow, and by all accounts, that was enough.

Her son realised that if the door opened any earlier, the depth of his mother’s longing may have never been revealed to him. It made him feel at peace with his choice of coming back.

He sang a birthday song for her as the fireworks illuminated the Singapore skyline. The feeling of warmth permeated. “Thank you for this, thank you for coming back here on my birthday” was all she could say at the end of it. The fireworks continued to illuminate the city, glows of red, orange and green punched through the sky.

“This is home, mom. Don’t you ever think I would forget that.”

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To New Beginnings

It took me 32 months to get here. There were two months of holiday after my ‘A’ Levels, 22 months of National Service and then 8 months of holiday before university. 2+22+8=32. Yes, it all adds up.

It still feels strange to look around and say that I’m finally here. I need to pinch my arm sometimes. I feel like a new mother introducing the age of her firstborn. “He’s 32 months old. We waited 32 months for him to grow up to who he is now.” Sure, she could have easily said “two and a half years”, and it would be easier to see it as that. But having lugged the burden of duty around through all this time, it is only reasonable that I put it all out in months. I sympathise with the mother and her newborn child all of a sudden. Every month held it’s unique stories and struggles. Stories of listlessness, fun, mindless endeavour, all the way down to the month where I injured my ankle, down to the month I decided to start this blog. 32 months. I cannot say anything more. It was a long time. It felt great at times, and sheer torture at others. I cannot say for sure where all that time went, and what good it did to my life. From a concave fishbowl, a goldfish knows not the actual form of the outside world. Regardless of what the outside world is like, all I know is that I’d never want to go back into the damn fishbowl. I hope you get my drift.

Orientation is over. My university life starts today, and I write this knowing full well that I may regret these statements a few months down the road. There is no such thing as an entirely positive change. Nothing in this world is absolute, and we all know that. It’s all about where the emphasis lies. I’m going to bet right now, at this very moment typing this out at 2 am, that the emphasis lies on positive territory.

I have expressed previously my high regard for my fellow batch mates in all their vibrancy and finesse in both thought and conversation. They have already paved the way for a contagiously chatty and utterly unforgettable (more alliteration for the record) time to come. A week into orientation we had tore down facades, ceased to be the people we were pretending to be and from there I hope we won’t have to look back.

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My OG mates!

In other more technical aspects, the entire campus is inspiringly new. If campuses were apples, this campus is still on it’s way down from the apple tree. Imagine catching this apple as it falls off the tree, and biting into it straight. It hasn’t had the time to touch the ground and you’re already greedily crewing the crunchy meat. That’s the sort of feeling I get when I think about my campus. Any fresher, you’d have to build it yourself. (Forgive the strange imagery, it gets me through the day.)

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The lawn is so new the grass is still growing.

On a more ambiguous note, that’s about all from the positive side of things. From what I’ve seen, the teaching staff seem eloquent and captivating, but that may be too early of an assumption to make. I’ll have to go along with the program and let each lesson seep into my brain. Not everything I learn will captivate me, and not every friendship will last, not every attempt at success will end in..well, success. It will sting like a bitch at the moment of impact but I will promise to draw the relevant lessons from my experiences.

And with that, here’s to new beginnings.

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And as a semi post script, a big thank you to my dad for coming down to witness this transition as well 🙂

10 Murakami Quotes I’d Live and Die To

I’m still reeling from an utterly amazing university orientation. I won’t say it was perfect or that it really hit the spot, but more than that, I believe it had me thinking a lot, and that’s the sort of state I exist best in. I feel strangely light in such a state.

Anyhow, the whole point of this post is that through this orientation, the love for my favourite author has been constantly reinforced. There have been many conversations about the works of Haruki Murakami, arguments over the meaning of his novels and the general agreement that he is one of the finest out there (this, of course, is disputable).

So here are ten quotes of his whose meanings I’d like to gravitate towards; the ideals they hold, the lessons they teach and the style(s) in which they have been executed. It makes these quotes a true treat to behold.

So here goes:

“Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely.”

* * *

“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”

* * *

“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.”

* * *

“If you remember me, then I don’t care if everyone else forgets.”

* * *

“But who can say what’s best? That’s why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a life time, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.”

* * *

“Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another? We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person’s essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?”

* * *

“But there are certain meanings that are lost forever the moment they are explained in words.”

* * *

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

* * *

“Your work should be an act of love, not a marriage of convenience.”

* * *

“The human heart is like a night bird. Silently waiting for something, and when the time comes, it flies straight toward it.”

* * *

As to why Murakami is my favourite author, I cannot really say for certain. I suspect his writing style and my overall approach to life share a good chunk of similarity. I don’t know if this was pure coincidence or whether I subconsciously willed my character and life maxims to be this way after reading a lot of his works. I feel myself moulding my style of writing to my attitudes and character, and so indirectly, the style of Murakami’s writing does in fact influence my own personal style.

Sure, I read a lot of other authors as well but none of their words have cut quite as deep. Either Murakami influenced me towards that direction, or I was like that all along. It’s like a “what came first, the chicken or the egg” question.

But hey, I am fine with both possibilities, for such is the power of words.