The Silence Between

The silence between two people is a space that is immune, meaning, that nothing can quite break the silence except action, and since we presume silence then there is no action anyway. So silence, though fragile, is also somewhat indestructible by the very virtue of being itself. In silence what develops and what is lost is what ever there is inherent already whilst there was action and interaction. In silence only lies potential. Distance itself is a great carrier of silence, though not unique as a place where silence may reside. Instead, silence plays to its own tune, and challenges one to sustain it. Do you have faith? In faith there can be that silence, a blissful one. From the lack of faith, a tumultuous silence, one filled with fearful thoughts, thoughts of lack, thoughts of failure. Silence uncovers all these things.

I think what silence uncovers as well is our will to grow. Our will to take a step out of ourselves now and then to ask questions. We see a lot of what is real when given some distance, when given that silence. The silence between close friends comfortable, the silence with a distant acquaintance or relative at times unbearably awkward. Physically both are the same, but implications wise, never more different. We need to grow out of these moments, find a will to want something more out of ourselves. I think that in such moments we have to think of ourselves first, ask if we are comfortable with the way things are and whether this silence, in what ever form it comes in, will be what defines your relationship with the person or what destroys it. We have to ascertain early on whether there will ever be the potential for growth, and if there is that in our silent shells we decide that we want to fight or not. There’s no point anymore, if say, the silence is one that swallows you whole and makes your heart sink. Then you have to reconsider the silence, maybe take some action. Fight or flight.

But also, silence teaches us patience. Silence can be blissful, but also a time when thoughts wander and you struggle to fill them with anything else but what you really want to fill them with. But you cannot. Silence teaches us that waiting isn’t just about letting time pass. It is an act of self improvement. As I said before, physically it seems simple, but in every other aspect it is an act of supreme endurance, a conscious act of trying, pulling the brakes, letting feelings come and go unattended. It’s all ok, in the sense that, it’s ok that there is a struggle. It is only to be expected. That’s what the silence is for. To grow.

The silence between two people then, is a gamble. Because as invulnerable as silence is, it makes its participants ever more vulnerable, the most vulnerable they can be. Once there is action again we do not know how the other has changed, or even how the interaction will change. Do you believe that two people have a specific essence? I do. I think that any interaction is its own self-contained universe. In the silence that universe is allowed to morph, but morph separately, apart, disjointed. It tends towards growth, or towards death. Something is bound to change. Put them back together and you get an essence that wasn’t what it was, something different. Not necessarily better or worst, but different. Silence is the slow preparation of what there is to mix, of thoughts, emotions, identities flailing, changing, ripening, decomposing. Everything. Silence is invulnerable because you do not know what the other person might change into. It is the impenetrable wall that you either grow stronger for or falter.

Silence between two people exists. And that’s all there is in between is faith, all sorts of faith; the good, the bad, the ugly. We don’t always conquer the silence, but we always learn something about ourselves in the process. If we see it that way, then any silence gives us something valuable. A part of ourselves, perhaps, that we hadn’t previously known.

Being Busy is Ok if You’re Ok with Being Busy

I never thought I’d be one to say that I’ve been busy lately so haven’t been updating my site. But it has been as such. But no, I won’t say I’ve been busy but more like, I’ve had less energy. I’d attribute this loss of energy to the tremendous load of training I’ve been administered, but also from the energy that has been siphoned from me doing a myriad of meaningless things. Missing buses, running errands, scrolling from start to finish on my newsfeed. I’ve been preoccupying myself with the wrong things in all likeliness.

But if I have to be honest that this week has been the busiest of all. I’ve had to cover a lot of news in school, took over the chief role because the actual chief of newsletterland went overseas this week and passed most of the responsibilities to me. So it’s ironic that I’m writing this. I always write at the most inconvenient of times, like now when I’m supposed to plan out my 2500-word psychology essay.

Busy-ness isn’t just measured by work, but by the rate of change of effort from one week to the next. We can go for weeks at a time doing a fair amount of work and not feel busy, or exhaustingly so. But if you had an easy week before and suddenly had a fair amount of work slapped upon you then suddenly it feels tiring. That’s this week for me; things suddenly increased in intensity; two assignments chasing me and a presentation today that went horribly.

I’m the kind to set my own standards and chase them. No matter what the outcome, if I’m not satisfied then I’m not. Nothing can convince me of my worth but myself. And that’s the way it goes with most of the things I care about. I stumbled on the explanations, made a wrong interpretation of the experimental results and was rightfully corrected. It was to be a bad stain on the week, and no matter how small a stain it will still be called a stain. But what can I do but move on?

And move on I did, because following the blotched presentation there was some big news that hit my school. There was a change in leadership in the upper echelons, and my news organisation had to cover it and so I was newsletterland represent, and followed the media into a press conference area.

I clutched my laptop, got ushered into a room with my phone as a voice recorder and my heart fell in between my slippers when every reporter in the room was dressed in semi formal attire and I was dressed to greet Santa Claus in the middle of the night in my living room. And It wasn’t even christmas. And I found myself greeting the school’s Governing Board instead. Embarrassed but keeping up a strong front (power-play is all about confidence rather than actual ability, they say) I shook some hands, sat down, recorded the entire proceeding, took some notes, shook some hands again, and left. There were a bunch of straight up reporters in there, proper voice recorders that looked like Nokia phones, a pile of notes, serious voices asking a bunch of overlapping questions and frenzied scribbling. And there was me who was just impressed that I got a complimentary bottle of water for just being in the room. After I left, it was time to start on the article. I had a few hours and time was ticking.

I forgot to say that busy-ness isn’t just about doing more, but about learning more as well. If I gave you a bunch of things to do that you were already familiar with, you would be irritated but you wouldn’t be engaged. Which means to say, you’d do these things without thinking twice about them, a bit like what menial labour is all about. But give someone a list of unfamiliar tasks and a whole different realm of busy is unlocked. It’s not your compartmentalisable busyness where you can do one thing at a time because you know A should go before B and following that is C. This is a very frenzied, disorganised busyness, where the mind constantly works to make sense of the situation, of the different parts that go either here or there, the best way, the most efficient way, and most of all deal with the different combination of things that do and do not work and deal with it via trial and error and at the end of the day be ok with it. Many people do survive doing unfamiliar things, but whether they’re ok with is is a different story.

As the day draws to a close it feels very much like I’m ok with it. Sure, it was a hell of a day. I could have spent three hours on everything if I did everything to the best and most efficient of my abilities, but I spent 9 hours instead. But I’m okay with it. I’m ok with learning for now and letting new tasks dismantle my resolve and have me assemble myself again and again. I think that’s what choosing your struggles is about, to be unfamiliar with something but still say ok, I’ve got this.

Maybe I’m preparing myself for the future when I say such things. The way things usually play out, the chances of you winning every battle that comes your way is slim. You have to concede that you’re just not into some things in life. When I was 14 I went for flute lessons but I learned that I preferred running and so went with that. The busyness of flute-playing wasn’t one I could accept, the busyness of running in circles was and so I still continue to do the latter. Choice isn’t about the initial tick of the box but the hundreds and thousands of days that follow that you continue to tick that same box.

And this all follows nicely to the box that I ticked today after all the madness subsided. I declared my major today, and am strangely happy to say that I’ll be majoring in Arts and Humanities with the emphasis on creative writing. Maybe this was a box I already ticked back in army when I first wrote that short story. Maybe this was a box that I ticked again and again when I wrote article after article and updated this blog. But it feels real now, perhaps more real than ever, that this is a box that I will have to continue ticking, a busyness that I have to be ok with, over and over.

And so it is no wonder this choice didn’t feel like a groundbreaking one, not at all. This choice was already made, and in many ways I feel like I’m not in control here. As a friend said, it’s the inevitability of dreams. It’s just the way things will turn out, and the reason why I feel like there’s something to look forward to in the future. Busy it will be, but I’m ok with that.

 

 

Spotify ‘Your Top Songs 2016’ Playlist

If my life were a giant playlist I’d put on some earphones, have it on repeat and walk through some dark woods all day. I’d take deep breaths of clean, moist air and allow the music to dictate the pace of my steps, avoiding rotting logs and side-stepping large rocks that stick out of the damp soil.

But my life is hardly a playlist, though scrolling through Spotify today I noticed the closest thing to it: my top songs of 2016.

I clicked it absentmindedly, thinking that it would just be another one of those things you press on the Youtube sidebar and end up being thoroughly unimpressed by (most things on the internet are like that anyway) but it turned out to be very informative. 2016 seems to be compressed into a few thoughts by the end of December, but as the songs just kept coming, I realised just how much I had listened to over the year. Surely I couldn’t have had so much time. There were songs that I never knew I listened to so much, just the vague memory of it pings back like a distant light that you can barely make out. I sit there thinking about the year.

When we think back about time we look for firm anchors and incidences and then begin to explore how we felt about these events then, versus how we feel about them now. Listening to the playlist had an opposite effect, it brought back feelings, or the memory of feelings, from which I had to trace back to the events or the time period in which those feelings were attached to. The song doesn’t pause for you, but continues and gives you more clues. Suck it and See by the Arctic Monkeys played, and I thought about the times I would listen to AM on repeat as I studied, something I don’t quite do anymore. Then there was Petit Biscuit, which accompanied me through late nights, whether we were drinking or I was struggling to write something, anything. And so the playlist goes on. I don’t listen to those songs as much as I used to.

How nice would it be to live life like it were a playlist. Not just a static playlist, but one that keeps changing according to what you fancy, one that evolves constantly, kicking out the older songs and adding in new songs as you go. There’s no feeling like getting to know a song better. On the first listen you’re not so sure if you like it so much but as it goes along it gets better, you get more attuned to what it’s trying to say. And before long you get the song, and the song gets you. Even the self invented language of Sigur Ros has you closing your eyes and nodding along. And then it becomes a melody you hum in elevators or on the last kilometre of a run. It follows you. But then as soon as you begin to love the song something strange happens: the song starts to fade. That vehicle of emotion picks you up less and less, drops you off a few stops too early, sometimes a few stops too late. As time goes on the song ceases to be what it meant at the start. It loses its lustre, and even before you can begin to question why, you are transfixed on a different melody, one you’d swear to keep close to you. But the cycle, it repeats. You’ll lose your affinity with that song. And we’re okay with that.

We’re okay with that, which is the most remarkable thing. Songs come and go but do not break our heart. I wish we could be like this about the comings and goings in our lives as well.

But we can’t, which makes sense because songs are pure, but life experiences that they remind us of are not. Experiences taint if not anything, and as the playlist goes on, as you begin to link the songs to the emotions to the experience, you realise just how songs mean nothing if not for your experiences. Songs are like clothing, no? Synthetic and meaningless if not for the wearer under it. And they come and go like the seasons, just giving themselves the time to nestle on your chest and when it is their time to leave they leave, silently closing the door behind them.

Until the day you decide to put on some earphones and take a long walk through the woods. The sound of nature is cut out, only the sight of its shy demeanour exists alongside the sound of 2016, that cuts through the air like falling ice. And then you see him hiding behind a tree as you listen to his favourite song. And you suddenly wished he didn’t have to kill himself like that. And then as the song changes you see her sitting by the stream, and you regret not having talked to her about everything before it all went wrong. And at the end of the path you see him: yourself. He is looking up in the trees as if searching for a bird, with a little notebook in his hand. His posture is upright, full of hope. You walk up to him. You want to ask him just what it was that gave him so much to look forward to back then. That maybe, if I knew that one secret to my past happiness, that I could put my earphones away and step out of the woods.

But then the song switches, and when I look up again he is gone.

 

 

 

 

 

On the Morning of 27th October

Once I awoke I felt the cool air pool at my feet, as if dipping them in cold water. The end of the bed leads to an open window, outside the sounds of pitter-patter, the absolute grey of the sky beyond. It wasn’t your ferocious concrete grey, but the slight touch of impurity mixed into white. There was nothing beyond this tainted white, only an infinite expanse of uniform cloud, stretched over the sky like cling wrap over a Tupperware world.

I wriggle my toes, the edge of the blanket slips off the top of my knees. I turn over again before sitting up. The cool air wafts into the room when I open my room door, an intimate gushing in. I walk down the corridor and stand by the window at the end. The grey has seeped through into the suite, into the walls and onto me, washing me over with ash. I take a deep breath at the ledge, breathing in dampness. I hold on to the ledge, as leaves flutter in the distance, trees small when viewed from the ninth floor. The pulse of the rain quickens, a hushed conversation growing more intense as more secrets are exchanged. The dull sky speaks. The air channels in, cooling our endeavours once more. The buildings are less bright, less shiny, less perfect. In the distance things that were once clear and defined have been shrouded in mist and blurred. We, in turn, are made less perfect. Rain has a peculiar scent that is neither pronounced nor insignificant. She invigorates the land and as the land breaths we smell her breath. We are made to listen to her as she drowns out everything else. Walking to Foodclique, there was a devastating quiet that hung over U-Town. But then it wasn’t exactly quiet, not vacuous by any means, but the pounding of rain emanating background noise that cancelled everything else out, that made our voices rounded at the edges. She made our words and actions, already insignificant as they were, more so. Rain came in a relentless rhythm, which finally broke the surface in words that drowned out ours, like the loud relative during Chinese New Year, like the seminar asshole that just wouldn’t shut up. And yet, it marvelled me to no end, that no takeover should ever be complete as this, with the world ensconced in rhythmic fury and greyness seeping in like this was Pleasantville, that covered not only the world but also our minds, that made us feed off the lack of colour as if a drug. If dullness were a drug then what would this make us? Would it make us the addicts or the patients? The rain continues to speak, maybe she had the answers, but it wouldn’t matter either way. We couldn’t catch up to the pace of her murmurs.

Later I would take the lift up to the highest floor of my college. One thing led to another and I ended up standing at the ledge, arms on the railing. The land spread out below, lightly misted, like a last minute thank-you-note you decide to write before your time with someone is over. The mist accretes into the distance, the height plays tricks on how we see. I have run to that reservoir before. That is West Coast Park, where I had triumphed but then also failed. There were the roads that held me at 12 am as I stumbled back to college, drunk. I remember the footsteps we took out of those gates, onto that bus. It was a sunny morning but somehow the rain brings me back. These are the memories that are only conjured when a world is cloaked in grey, when background noise helps you focus and urges you to be calm, but at the same time screams at you to remember. And I remember. I try everyday to forget but the grey draws me in and I remember.

The Words We should have Said, the Things We should have Done

 

The last two weeks have been heavy. A community has been in grief. It was difficult to describe the tension in the few days after the incident, just people walking around, blank looks on their faces, people trying to look strong. I for one, was at a loss because for once in my life words failed me. I didn’t know how to describe how I felt.

I have written short stories about suicide and death, grief and loss. I do these things not as a means to get closer to these issues, but to distance myself from them. I know very well that what I write is fictional, that though the themes might have played out before in different combinations it certainly hasn’t played out in the way I imagined in my head. I console myself in that way. Sometimes the sadder the story, the more content I feel writing it. It’s a balance between living in a world I know is made up yet keeping one foot grounded in reality. Finally when the story comes to fruition my feelings go full circle and I am pushed back into this world, the door shuts on my imagination and I am back where you guys are. It’s a perverse sort of pleasure.

The incident has forced me to view things from the other direction. It forced all of us to behold the facts, before attempting to imagine what might have driven someone to do what they did that day. Rather than a world of possibilities opening up, it felt like a heavy door had been shut, followed by a vacuous slamming sound that signalled the absoluteness of the act. I struggled to come to terms with it. All my attempts at imagining how this happened failed, and I am sure this felt the same for most of those around me. I didn’t write about this precisely because what I felt wasn’t something I had ever written about before. I only knew of the limited range of emotions in my head that I put into stories. How inconsequential all those attempts at synthesising grief or sadness seemed now.

So instead we did something very different. The first instinct for many of us millennials is to hide behind a keyboard when things got tough, but this incident taught us to do anything but. Instead, we began to reach out. we began to take each other seriously in real life conversations. We began to ask the important questions such as “how are you” and “how has it been”. We sought help in each other rather than in ourselves. Because in times like these it becomes evident that no one can make it through life on their own.

Because we don’t know if people want to be alone or not, whether they chose to or whether they were driven there by circumstance. We cannot assume that loneliness is our end state. Because it really isn’t. Loneliness is a progression to greater things but never the greater thing itself. If I had any regrets, they would come later on when I thought back about my interactions with the person. It always went back to not treating people better when we had the chance, of the words we should have said and the things we should have done. This doesn’t just pertain to the person in question, but to all the other peripheral and main characters in your life that come and go and whom you always assume are okay. But it doesn’t take so much effort to put our phones away and ask them about their interests and passions, about their struggles and stories. We die a little every day when we disregard the narratives of others, and to act that way is as good as feeling that way, regardless of your intentions.

Treasuring your life and living it to the fullest is not a selfish act, because living life to the fullest includes taking care of those around you and being present to the best of your abilities. As my favourite author puts it:

“People die all the time. 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. It’s too easy not to make the effort, then weep and wring your hands after the person dies.”

In other words, we should reach out when we can, and learn to never leave things unsaid.

***

I hope you’ve found a better place to be, and may we all promise to live our lives to the fullest; if not for ourselves, then for the people around us.

Eat that Up, It’s Good for You 

When a Sigur Ros soundtrack is playing through my earpiece and I’m on a long bus ride home little seems to be wrong with life. The good in this semester has been rather slow in appearing for me, but I’ve been very thankful for them. I’ve worked hard and planned my time to the best of my abilities. Good time management isn’t just about getting that three hour study session in order but knowing when you should rest, when you should be with people. The latter has been lacking because some alone time was needed, quite badly, during certain junctures in the semester. But I survived, and I’m glad I did. 

This semester has been about facing up to all sorts of truths. The truth of university, the way it all hit us during our second year, so methodical, so unfeeling, so hyper-engorged with things to do. So tough, to sum it up. It hit us all off a fantastic summer and we didn’t even have the time or the people to complain to. We were left to either rot or flourish. Staying still was not an option. Work piled up and there was always something to do. We didn’t want to appear weak but in some way or another, we all were. At least I knew I was. There was also the truth of being in a leadership role of an organisation. How to know my shit when shit hit, how to get down to work when everyone was resting, how to deal with people at their best and their worst. How to deal with my own shortcomings, how to know things; just know things. Those were all challenges for me. I told myself time and again that this was exactly where I should be, and I’m going to stand by this endeavour until it bears fruit. 

Dealing with people hasn’t been easy either. It has occured to me that in the course of our lives we either say too much or say too little. I’m in the latter category, and for that, I have suffered greatly. I didn’t say enough to the people that mattered even though I really wanted to. And yet. It doesn’t matter in the end. Because if, say, you really cared for someone you would just say these things and not hide them. But of course I didn’t. I cared greatly but I hid everything. And so I might as well not have cared. And so from how I see matters now, things should have played out like they did, and they did. And all there’s left to do is to pick up the pieces and trudge on. 

On a lighter note, running has been a joy. I have been doing four runs a week for the entire semester thus far. I ran even when I was sick, ran when it was midnight through unlit paths. I waited for trainings as if they were the only things to look forward to. And sometimes I honestly believed they were. I don’t like excuses when it comes to the things I love; it’s either I go all out or don’t do anything at all. Of course, I chose the former for this case, and I’ve developed a laser focus. From devoting an independent laundry cycle for running clothes to just wearing my shoes and taking the lift down, I got the whole routine down to a science. Day in and day out, it’s apparent that if you love to do something you’ll make time for it. I just think of the entire year that I’d waited due to injury and would do anything to run again. And now I’m running again. What greater privilege is there? 

And so my semester looked like that. Missed opportunities but many gained as well. I’ve needed a lot of patience and discipline to see that. But it is early days as yet. A lot of strength is yet to be sought and gained. A lot remains to be learnt. I acknowledge that I don’t have the same energy as I did one year ago but with the loss in energy inevitably comes experience. I think a lot can still be said about going through these tough times but I will not indulge in that just yet. All I hope is that the year end post will find me in optimistic hands. 

What Happened on Saturday Morning 

The tiles have worms in them, a cavern of tunnels, little perforations for a network of bugs and critters to crawl through. That I was sure. I tumbled over old newspapers, rickety tables that weighed a hundred tonnes, said hi to the old uncle that lived in this one-room flat. A cockroach wriggled, desperate to catch one last breath. 

I step into a brightly lit house, faces greet me, ask me, just why was I so late. I sheepishly tell them I had come from somewhere, that I would explain later. I had to bathe first. It was already bad enough being late for a class reunion, let alone ask to shower. But that was just how it was. I flicked specks of paint off my forearm, scrubbed dirt from between my toes. Goat’s milk soap ran down my body. I felt clean for the first time in four hours.

There were bedbugs after all, in between the tiles, behind little pockets of uneven paint that decked the walls. There was a rusty bed frame that needed moving out. Then there was us, the four of us. Just standing there. 

Someone told me to try the Vietnamese spring rolls. That they were made specially for me. Someone told me to eat more chicken rice. The wine was waiting behind in the pantry. I was from this and that school doing this and that. That’s nice, nice to know you’re doing well. Why, thank you. I am quite happy where my life is headed. Life, ambitions, dreams. Silence. The sound of wine being poured. Cabernet Sauvignon. It has been four years.

Uncle has gone to McDonalds to sit so we don’t know what to throw away. We grabbed random items, pulled them aside, away from brown walls once white. A mahjong case thick with dust, a relic of money won and lost. Heaps of clothing unfolded. Tin cans amid leftover food. Cigarettes. More dead cockroaches. Small specks of black peppered walls and floor. Bedbug eggs? We didn’t want to know. We swept away the dust that crusted the spaces behind, the spaces no one was ever meant to see. Maybe that’s what history really means. 

Who wants more wine? And so more wine is passed around. The mood is convivial. Remember when we used to do this and that and that and this? The spring rolls were fantastic, vegetable fresh and prawn crunchy. We talk about stuffy classrooms and the stressful syllabus, about idiosyncrasies that didn’t seem to have changed. We talked about what used to be us, now in a distance but still looking bright. And we laughed even more. There were still paint flecks on my toenails.

We began by scrubbing the walls of their history of dirt, and painting them over with our own narratives. The paint gleamed white at first, but dulled to beige as it dried. I still wonder why. 

We go in a circle now asking each other what we’re doing. She’s about to work in public relations. He’s going to be a lawyer. I tell them I want to write a novel. It’s like an orientation activity but this was hardly orientation. This was in fact the exact opposite.

Before I knew it I had to leave. A class reunion, I told the other volunteers. Goodbye old house, goodbye the walls that we painted over. I didn’t get to say goodbye to the old uncle that left for Mcdonalds. I packed up to go. There was some sadness in the leaving. A self serving sadness that made me feel better; because what’s worst than leaving this place and feeling good? You had to feel bad for not helping more. Always. That’s what makes you a good person. No? 

We had our time back in the days and we laugh about them because nothing comforts people more than a shared history. Forget suffering, because suffering is okay if it’s shared. And in many ways it was shared between us, this group of people who were put together, by and large by random, and given these challenges. Fight for your academic future, they said. And so we did. We fought. And our laughter is the proof that we survived to tell the tale.

I walk down the side of the road. Construction on both sides, the sun is beaming down weakly through the haze. Cars pass by, none of them an available cab. Don’t complain, I tell myself. Your existence is the definition of privilege. You never had to fight it out. Being late for a class reunion would be the least of your worries. Having to bathe at your friends house is just the first luxury of a life inundated with them. You have nothing to complain about, this life is perfect as it is. 

I travel home with one of my former classmates. I tell her about what happened before I arrived. That volunteering was nice but it comes with its burdens. She told me some of her concerns. She told me about her grandparents who are hoarders. Who have a hard time letting go of things. And why was that so? We never truly try to understand before telling them to throw things away. I said that we should perhaps listen to their stories. But that’s just me and I’m all about stories and perhaps the world doesn’t work that way. The conversation veers to something else as the bus moves along.