She Told Me Words Meant Nothing

She told me words meant nothing and it took the wind out of my lungs because words were all I had, all that I lugged around in a heavy briefcase, stuffed in my mind, let overflow on paper, pixel, out into the air through what I spoke and in the end those were words that guided my heart.

She told me words meant nothing but I had already written many words for her tucked away in folders and notes and postcards and spotify playlists and those words were words that I would read to myself to make sure they were good, well polished. I made sure they shone in ways that I myself couldn’t so she might mistake those words for me myself.

She told me words meant nothing but I read the words she wrote and I knew I was in the right place because her words took up entire text boxes which in turn filled up a thumb and a half of space and eventually my heart. Her words convinced everyone of her worth, but herself.

She told me words meant nothing. But words were my actions because action did not need to be a blow of the fist or a pyrotechnic show. Actions can be the purchase of a polaroid and a permanent marker. Effort can be the printing of paper and the quick typing at 3 am. Actions can be thoughts in words and words on paper and paper in an envelope 3000 miles from home, feeling small in her hands, always on the brink of being opened and read but not yet.

She told me words meant nothing, and I told her why should they mean nothing. She told me she couldn’t feel words, that they were inanimate shining black on an ivory backdrop.

I told her that words meant nothing, but that words were never the point. That trying was always what mattered despite the nothingness that stared us straight in the face and bared its teeth. That trying which I didnt know how else to prove but through words. The trying which meant that even if things didnt work out that I would leave with no regrets.

Perhaps there are no words for that.

On Turning 23: a Three-part Study in Vomit

I

The first day of my 24th year started off pretty much like it ended: in vomit.

Of course, no one means for things to end in a pool of dinner-remains and bile. Vomiting is nature’s wild card, happening with the regularity of, say, bumping into an old acquaintance on the bus. Once a year if you’re lucky, never at all would be best. It’s an uncanny comparison, and I can’t decide which scenario is worst. At least you’re likely to feel better after vomiting.

23 started in vomit. It happened quickly. It was half past one on the Uber, I was in the front passenger seat watching street lights streak across the dashboard. A dude no older than me gets on at Holland Village, having, like me, had the presence of mind to use Uber-pool in an attempt to save a few. But things go wrong as the Uber turns into the main road where my house is. “I need to vomit,” he begs. The desire to find the sidewalk when you are on the verge of barfing is as instinctive as wanting love and affection in a cold lonely world. Your body will search for an excuse, any at all, to release the contents of the night.

He did not find the curbside. Instead, his vomit found the side of the car door, and some of my left arm when I tried to open the door for him. I remember vividly. It was a white chuck of something on my arm. It looked almost like a piece of ground chicken. All this, from a person who had the presence of mind to save $3 by Uber-pooling.

And so, 23 started with vomit. Make what you want of that.

Eighteen hours later, I was at a family dinner at a Chinese restaurant. I used to hide alcohol from my parents during my army days, but nowadays I’m old enough for my grandfather to look at me with intense sadness every time I reject a drink. It’s disappointment of the highest degree, the kind that can land you in jail of you abet in its continuation. The classic beer-whisky-wine combo is what we always have at such occasions, and once you start on one, you’ll have to go through all of them. A lot of families know that it isn’t good to mix different kinds of liquors, and for all I know only drink one kind of liquor in one sitting. My family is not one of them. Our conversations got louder and louder as the dishes came and went. This restaurant  was peculiar, serving the assortment platter as a third dish, and soup as the second last dish. If you’re of Chinese heritage or have been to enough of these dinners, then you’d know what I mean. It was a strange order, a perfect segue to the even stranger night ahead.

I was poured a glass of whisky that was intensely personal: and by personal I mean that the cup was full enough to change your night. The glass was filled three quarters up with pure whisky; a conservative estimate would equate it to five shots. I reached out to take it, but my grandfather interjected. “I’ll drink this for you because it’s your birthday.” He said this with a smile on his face that was a mixture of confidence and kindness. It was a peculiar smile, the kind that doesn’t ask for anything in return. And so he did. I don’t know how, but he finished the entire glass over the course of the night. This was on top of wine, and beer, and another glass of whisky before that. His level of inebriation gave him the authority to talk about World War Two, and his passage from China to Singapore. Come to think of it, he always had that authority. The alcohol just gave him a reason to use it.

Alcohol is the ultimate example of diminishing returns. By the end of the night my grandfather was hobbling out of the restaurant and onto the sidewalk. My brother and I were holding him, one of us on each side, waiting for my father to come over with the car. We struggled to get him in without his head hitting the doorframe. He was muttering sweet nothings, holding onto me tightly as we guided him into the vehicle. From there we had to slowly get him out of the car. At this point he was still relying on his own energy to stand up and walk forward. We were just there to ensure that he didn’t fall forwards or back. He needed a firm hand to hold and there we were; his grandchildren. He said a bunch of thank yous as we guided him up the stairs to his bedroom, and more hugs were exchanged right before we left.

This is the same man that I hardly talk to in the course of normal conversation. Not that there was any one reason for this, but perhaps just my own lack of initiative that accreted over the years and led me to become the grandson I was, the kind that takes the presence of his grandparents for granted. A grandson I wouldn’t want my own grandchildren (if I ever see that day) to be but probably the grandchildren I deserve. My grandmother was peeling an orange for him in the kitchen, and my grandfather sat on his recliner in his room with a smile on his face. That smile. Given how my grandmother was excessively calm, I got the sense that this has definitely happened before. Sometimes I wish I knew more about my grandparents, and in some instances I have tried to. But it never seems enough, does it? Not enough time, not enough effort. But if a drunken episode is what it takes to get some sense of closeness, then I’d settle for that.

***

II

I was shuttled back home after that with surprising haste, where a bunch of my friends were already waiting for me in my room. With some alcohol swimming in my blood I was struck by a singular perverse thought; that everyone had to go down kicking and screaming as well. Cups in one hand and ice in the other, I poured them a bunch of drinks that were gentle at first, then got higher in alcohol content as the mixers started to run out. We played a bunch of party games that involved 1) careful attention to the environment 2) a good sense of circular direction 3) an ability to dissociate speech with action. Any penalty incurred would mean a sip. As you can imagine, these are all judgments that get increasingly harder to make as the alcohol massages your senses, and so if one were to draw a graph of how intoxicated you would be over the course of the game then it would be of an increasing rate. The more intoxicated you are, the more mistakes you make, and the more mistakes you make, the more intoxicated you become. I did two more potent mixes and stashed them in fruit juice boxes for good concealment. Some of us were already swimming by the time we left my house.

We got on the uber before 1.

By then my birthday was already over, but that’s not important. No, not at all.

The night involved 5 more potent drinks, and two of my friends leaving early to regurgitate their dinners outside. Alcohol is a study in diminishing returns, and we were all way past the peak.

As promised, my 23rd birthday ended in vomit. I reached home at about 3 am, and let everything out on a grass patch outside my house. I crouched over and allowed my body to save itself. There was a stinging sensation at the back of my throat, one that I had to rid myself of by guzzling on a stream of garden hose water. Surprisingly, I remembered everything.

23 was an age I thought I would never reach. This has nothing to do with life expectancy. I just thought that time would fold upon itself, halving again and again as I approached 23, but never quite reaching. I would forever be in the vague zone between 20 and 22 but never will I ever actually cross that boundary. Maybe I feel this way because my life was always a comfortable and privileged one. People always say that they grew up too fast but I never did feel that way. If anything I didn’t grow up as fast as I’d like. There was always a house to go back to and a school to call my own and parents who didn’t pressure me so much. It has helped me to pause and think about a bunch of stuff but sometimes I wonder just how far can thinking get you. I have some goals and I have chased after them but I don’t know how realistic they are. Now is an especially apt time to reconsider, but also to find ways to move on with my life. You can’t be trapped in the 20 – 22 year old buffer zone forever. It was fun while it lasted, yes, but it’s not where you want to be in, say, ten years from now. You have to force every notion of a coddled existence out of your life like your body rejects anything too toxic.

Maybe 23 started and ended in vomit to remind me of that sudden instinct to purge all the insecurity and laziness that has followed me around. But it’s a weak proposition. After all, there’s no final consolation and no final reflection for these things. Dealing with negativity will always be an ongoing process, and that’s not a bad thing because it gives us something to work towards. Keep your head in the game, be there for loved ones, don’t take things for granted, be brave enough to live and love. We live for these realisations. Sure, they sound like platitudes but these mantras keep our lives in check and remind us constantly that it’s not just about ourselves that we live, but for those around us. And then this links back to how alcohol helps us notice all these things; enhances the intimacy with the people we care about yet allowing us to appreciate the voids that we carry within ourselves.

***

III

I don’t have the answers but the closest thing to a resolution would be what someone told me on the night before my birthday: that it’s ok to not be there yet, but as long as you have the awareness that you’re not there then there’s some salvation. I think that’s a good as place as any to start, whether there’s vomit involved or not.

Stuck on the Puzzle

Having lugged a lacklustre attitude around for the entire semester, it’s almost laughable that I’m typing this as the plane inches across the sky, leaving bits of blue and white flashing past the window.

As the opportunity for rest comes around I find myself springing to action and typing all this out. This is probably foolish. Strangely, I never had that motivation as the semester drew to a close. I left all my assignments to the last minute and started studying the entire syllabus a couple of days before some of my exams. Sometimes I have the right motivations, but never the right timing.

I compartmentalised all my thoughts this semester and kept them largely to myself, failing to write much at the side. Maybe my fiction class was responsible for this; I had to churn out two 5000-word stories and with that very focused avenue to write and imagine I left it all on those foreign pages, sunk in the commitment to academia. I wrote with intensity for 2 days at a time, and there they were, two stories I could call my own. I’m never a fan of writing slowly and steadily, only quickly and furiously, like ripping off a band-aid along with leg hair and dead skin and all that. I received comments for these stories, some good; others less so. I learned. I edited. And I have to admit, though writing is a joy, editing isn’t. It’s almost painful, like disciplining your child. You want to assume your child is perfect but that probably isn’t the case, so sometimes you hit your child. You do it out of love, but it hurts you to do it nevertheless. This metaphor is not a 1:1 fit but I hope you get the gist. In any case, all that focused writing must have come at a cost. My mind was exhausted and there was less writing I could accomplish at the side. Strange, isn’t it? I got what I most wanted, only to tire of it.

Or maybe the sluggishness came from an over-investment of energy into cross-country trainings, that graduated in intensity and peaked somewhere in the middle of March. As fun as running can be, it teaches you to go with the flow, the flow, the flow. And after months of running you sometimes wonder where all that time went. You’re sometimes tired in classes, sometimes nodding off in meetings. In that way I think writing and running are often in fierce competition for the raw physical energy that my body can generate. It probably doesn’t help that I write better after 1 am, where I’m fighting to keep awake and clawing at the walls of my mind to keep my thoughts together. Maybe that’s because I write the best when I frame the ‘writing experience’ as a struggle. I try to constrain myself in some way to give myself a firm direction to run towards (or away). When I find a comfortable time and space, nothing flows. It’s a highly metaphysical concept. Again, there’s something paradoxical about all this. But in any case, when two or more tiring experiences compete, something has to give.

That being said, I don’t think I ever stopped imagining. I only grew more suspicious of my ability to harness all that imagination. By no means was this a top-down degeneration. I thought it might have been a subtle changing of ideals, a shift in the clouds. That had me feeling panicked for a while. But now that I look back, it was definitely borne out of circumstance, and tiredness, maybe laziness, of things that happened over the semester that made me doubt if good writing was possible even if I wasn’t a good person. That sort of silly insecurity.

But I figured that even if I’ll never be a good person, I want to at least be a decent writer. Reflecting on this over the past week of travelling, I know for sure that the desire to continue on this path is still there (thankfully) and I don’t have any evidence to show except for what the summer will bring. Like I said, the way I frame the experience of writing is that of a struggle. And within any struggle there exists stages of self-doubt and existential questioning. This is how we make the leap between what we think we love and what we actually love. Rarely is a life lived without buts, but being stuck on the puzzle doesn’t mean you give up on it.

Again, I don’t have the answers. I wish I did, and I wish after I write these words I will straighten my life with a shot of adrenaline in the backside. I wish that my writing will show some sense of order but as you can see from this post, order is still far down the road. Maybe summer will be fulfilling, maybe it won’t. I don’t know. Most of it is up to me, though maybe some of it is not. In any case, it’s time to labour and learn, and forgive myself for the past semester of neglect.

My Grandfather, the Activist

“Done with the printing?” Came this obnoxious voice down the hall.

No, I wasn’t done.

“Yup, I’m sending it over!” I hollered.

I went into overdrive, searching out the documents, pulling out files, converting word documents into PDFs. The walls of the office were closing in on me. There wasn’t much else to do but work.

I pressed print and stood up. Turned to rush for the printer. My arm hit something warm, and there was the sound of porcelain on plastic. The smell of coffee rose from my desk.

On the bus home is when I consolidate my day, which often turns into a pity session where I analyse the shortcomings in my life. As a child I had great dreams, great ambitions. I looked to my grandfather as a role model. My parents were never home, and he brought me up since young. He opened a photo developing shop at Johor Bahru near the Border. He spent his time taking photographs in the morning and tending to his shop in the afternoon. He was an enthusiast, a family man. But above all he was an activist.

Why activist, you may ask? Well, in my books an activist would be someone who inspires another to fight a similar cause. I sat for many years during hot stuffy afternoons watching him develop photos, place them in albums. Some of his clients would smile and wave at me, telling me how “guai” I was. What I admired about him wasn’t the shop, or the photographs. It might have been at first, but after so long I realise it was always that glint of happiness that he couldn’t quite hold back in the pursuit of his craft. He smiled when a customer came in, took deep excited breaths when framing photographs and packaging them. He inspired me to fight for a life I could be proud of. Well, at first.

Standing in a skirt full of coffee stains and covering the deed with a half crumpled newspaper, I felt that in many ways I had let him down. I had let myself down.

We live in Singapore now. A land of better opportunities, as my parents put it. And besides, Grandpa was getting old.

“How was your day?” I asked him in Chinese. He sat on the couch, flipping through television channels. Baggy white shirt, head full of ivory hair, he looked up at me. The house smelled damp.

“Who are you?” He replied.

“Your granddaughter. I’m your granddaughter.” I took a deep breath. “Anyway, I got you some stuff to eat.”

We sat around the dinner table after some moving about. The television was still turned on. I opened the packets of warm food, and I watched as his eyes lit and he immediately reached out with his bare hands.

“No, I’ll get you fork and spoon!” I strode to the kitchen with the set of utensils for him and a pair of chopsticks for myself.

He was already stuffing food into his mouth. I placed the utensils in his hands and he grudgingly obliged.

“You know during the war we didn’t even have bowls.” He reminisced.

“This isn’t the war, grandpa. This is 2016.”

“Who said anything about war?”

I continued eating as my grandfather went on about wartime rations for the sixtieth time this month. He took large swallows, and spat bones out with huge chunks of food. Soon I would have to remove these bones for him.

“How was your day?” I ventured.

“Who are you? Everyday I am here I feel more trapped.”

“How was your day?”

“It is a life of suffering.” It’s funny how phrases sound normal in Chinese but when translated sound pretentiously philosophical.

As I was washing the dishes I noticed again the coffee stains on my skirt. I noticed that it had faded away and was in gradually lighter shades of brown as time went by. I noticed that this was my life. I had to take care of the same man who cradled me when I was a senseless child. It only made sense that I did. I had to work a dead end job every day to make sure we made ends meet, serving coffee and printing meaningless documents. It only made sense that I did. And most of all, it only made sense that I came home to a man who didn’t recognise me, whose look of betrayal stung me every time. It was almost as if he was truly disappointed in what had become of me. That he, a young man struggling in the seventies could have found a job that he truly loved whilst me, a prosperous millennial, could only settle for second best.

And when you settle for second best that’s exactly what you get.

A First date at Botanic Gardens

The sun beam hit the leaves that filtered shadows to the concrete path. Our feet waddled amongst the blurry shapes of leaves. I walked slowly with her and just talked. I talked about deep fears, my aversion to ice cream and even talked about the northern lights and how I really would like to witness it one day, just once in my life. I talked about wild dogs even, how I was sometimes really scared of them. I don’t remember ever having so much to talk about, even when I was alone and talking to myself.

The gardens didn’t seem like a good place for a first date, but the afternoon unraveled as such. I was sick of tradition; the nice clothes and fancy dinner so when I asked her three days ago it was simple. “Would you want to have lunch with me?”

“Just you and me?”

Oh fuck, what now. “Yes, just us. Would Tanglin be okay? The mall is small but I know this place that serves great french pastry” I had no idea what I was talking about.

“For lunch?”

And so the day began with French pastry for lunch. No kidding. There was really a place there that served just that. It was the kind of meal that would always leave you unsatisfied due to the puffiness of the bread and the small portions of carefully sautéed meat.

And then we took a walk around the Gardens.

“You need insect repellent?” I asked.

“I don’t think there are many mosquitoes in the afternoon.”

“Right.”

If awkwardness were a ball shaped object then I was probably the sun.

And so we sauntered along and for some strange reason I began talking. It’s hard to say why we talk. Sometimes it’s to fill the space, like when someone you don’t really know that well walks on by and you suddenly feel that, hey, I have to say something to appear like a decent human being. And then you do. At other times you really want to tell someone something about you. And sometimes, you talk just to prove to yourself (because as logical beings some of us need that proof) that you exist. Existence is rare, but to have someone who really wants to listen is arguably rarer, and so every chance you get to do that you should grab that chance and do that.

I was doing that, and it helped that she was listening. It wasn’t some one-sided exchange either. She picked up on the rhythm of my words, interjecting just when I had run out of things to say. It wasn’t like back at the french pastry store. Back there, we were tongue tied and trying too hard to impress. Now it was just us, the scenery, some halfhearted breeze and a partly cloudy 3pm. We had a world of things to talk about. The world with its chirpy birds, lush green and remarkable silence surrounded us and allowed us these things to talk about.

She told me about her grandparents. Most people don’t talk about their grandparents, I remarked. Well, but I am, she replied. Right, go along. And go along she did.

Her grandfather had stories, that of which he would tell her before she went to bed. Stories of past triumphs, hardships. Stories of death. Death? I asked. Yes, death. Do you know what’s Memento Mori?  Yes, I did. Ok so see, she replied, that when one got so old death was something that would always play around at the peripheries, like rats lurking around a dumpster. There was something unapologetic about the way my grandfather talked about death, talked about it so often. But it was never sad, don’t get me wrong. Death was one half about remembering to him. That was the first stage. But the other half was also about treasuring the now. I think he always told me these stories about the people in his life that were dead so I would eventually learn that lesson for myself.

What stories, I asked.

My uncle, she said, died while serving the nation. He was killed when a tank ran into the van he was sitting in. Him and the driver were crushed instantly. He also told me about his barber he visited for 25 years, being diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer one day, and claiming him in three months. My grandfather let his hair grow out those three months, only cutting it again after paying his final respects at the funeral.

Weren’t these stories depressing in one way or another? I asked again. I was afraid I was prying.

It wasn’t so bad. I saw death from a distance, and always, always through his stories. I think that was his way of protecting me, you know. I was quite sensitive as a child because of this. My friends were always asking questions about death and the dark beyond but I seemed to know it all. It was my grandfather, ensuring that I didn’t have to learn about death the hard way.

At that moment there was a loud crash in the distance. A few birds flew off into the air from the nearby trees. There was a vehement sigh, like the sound of a thousand bags of autumn leaves being released into the ground all at once.

“What was that?” someone asked. It could have been either of us, or both. It didn’t matter.

There were screams in the distance.

We should go check it out, I suggested.

We walked slowly in the direction of the sound. I hope everyone’s okay, she said. There was silence again, the birds settled on different branches, whilst the wind continued to play with the leaves, shadows continued to play at our feet.

She told me about the day her grandfather died.

All the time he spent with me when I was younger could not prepare me for the day he died, she started. All there was to say was perhaps that guilt took over, and it held onto me quick and fast. Because for all the stories he told, and for all the times he told me to remember that death always awaited, I never thought it could ever be him. I believed that the man who knows death would be above it. But when that wasn’t the case, I realised that all along, I never listened to him. I never treasured the time with him while I could have. I listened and I nodded, but I was never there, with him.

Maybe that was all he wanted from you, I offered. To just, you know, be there.

Maybe. But what a thing to assume, don’t you think? That being there is enough. I mean, what would my presence be worth?

It’s worth a lot, I interjected.

It’s not enough, she replied. The kind of reply a teacher gives a class, telling them that no, there is only one answer to the comprehension question, anything else gets a zero. There were screams in the distance.

Maybe the conversation could have gone on after that. We could have talked about how presence is one thing, that trying is another. Then would trying to be more present be enough? Would it, in the grand scheme of things, be ok to say, I tried and so am absolved of all blame, no matter what? Or could she have tried, but still achieve nothing? After all, I found out eventually, that her grandfather had dementia. He probably couldn’t sense that she did anything more. But it’s not about that, I could imagine her reply. It’s selfish to think of the most practical way about things. Because maybe being human isn’t about that. Then what would it be about? I still don’t have the answers to that. Because that’s all we really said on our first date. It wasn’t much. Or at least, not enough.

For all the wisdom that her grandfather had passed to her, she stopped short of revealing the secrets of dealing with death.

We marched past some thick vegetation and bright light descended as we reached a clearing, where the symphony lake appeared in front of us. To the left, there was a large crowd of people, pushing, pulling, struggling. Branches, leaves, a little girl crying. There was a scream for help, a desperate one. The kind that of scream that leaves no doubt the magnitude of what had just happened.

I was not personally affected by this incident. The walk through the botanic gardens, along with the date, is almost entirely fictional. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t be Fooled by All This Reunion

Don’t be fooled by the facade of your grand-aunt’s house, spick and span as it is, not so much a blemish on the wall. It wasn’t like this just four days ago. It was quiet, stale, mundane and everything this bustling house full of relatives clad in red tries to dissociate itself from. It runs from its horrid past, a quick sprint that happens once every year.

Don’t be fooled by your uncle asking you for your Major in University and your path in life, or telling you about the seeming madness of the working world he warns you against. He doesn’t care about any of it. He just wants to tide over the time, to perform a formality he has performed for over 50 years of his life and that you will too, for the next 50 of yours.

Don’t be fooled by your cousin who looks so good in his button on, who checks his Panerai every few minutes to make sure it’s still there. He has his insecurities too, and hopes that no one asks him too many questions. There are some cracks you can see appear; his willingness to dissolve into thin air and materialise somewhere else.

Don’t be fooled by the fun of Black-Jack. With every hand that you reveal, the excitement mounts and we seem closer than ever before. But in the end, all that holds us together is vice.

Don’t be fooled by the red packet that is presented to you over and over. But then again, if it isn’t meaningful conversations that unite us then maybe all this money can act as a viable substitute.

Don’t be fooled by the pineapple tarts and Bakkwa and Love letters that you shove into your mouth. They’re not good for health. But they’re good for giving you a break from the stifling small-talk.

Don’t be fooled by the Instagram pictures of families closer than ever before, clad in their best and giving the flashiest of smiles. Familial bonds often fall short of the precision of that tailored shirt.

Don’t be fooled by the two oranges you hold in your hand. If you look closely, they are neither perfectly round, nor smooth on the surface. They are in fact the definition of an imperfect whole.

Don’t be fooled by all this reunion. If you wanted reunion you would have done something about it in the 350 days you had before and after. You wouldn’t have waited for this particular time of year to practice this mere formality, to partake in this excruciating performance.

 

 

 

She Captured a Feeling, Sky Without Ceiling

I thought about what to write for a long time, and this is not usual for me. I usually just go with whatever comes to mind and it works out. Well, most of the time it does. Maybe everything I write now comes out strange, because a big part of me thinks that this is also for myself, for the road I want to embark on may turn out to be pretty similar to yours. Maybe we aren’t that different at all. But I oversimplify. And besides, this is hardly about me.

You’re going to New York. Make no mistake about it.  Most don’t go as far as this, because most don’t dream the way you dream. You dreamed of a vision where you conquer and attain. I think I’m oversimplifying again, but somehow I have the notion that most dreams are like that. You are up against seemingly insurmountable forces and so have to overcome in order to attain a goal you really want. I think you can fill in the blanks. And once you fill in those blanks it’s good to observe that not many people have these blanks to fill in. In other words, not many people have such dreams. In fact many people go through life not knowing what they’re good at, or are supposed to be good at. Most don’t find that one thing in life they’re willing to take a plane halfway around the world and fight for. And this makes your situation a precious one. That you even have a dream to hold on to in the first place is remarkable.

You can’t waste something like this. You can’t sit at home and think of ways to ‘be realistic’ with your life because what is deemed as realistic has long since vanished when you stepped on that plane. And when I say you can’t waste this, I don’t just mean this one opportunity. I’m talking about talent. I’m talking about dreams. I’m talking about how all these elements converge at a precise point which just so happens to be you; a convergence that skips generations and doesn’t come back if you hesitate just once.

Perhaps it’s easy to think of all this as a happy coincidence, but I see this as fate, or at least some variation of it. Not fate in the sense that things will work out for sure. In fact, things are anything but certain. What I mean is fate, in the path that you have been pushed towards steadily, whether by your own doing or by forces greater than yourself. Either way, this path is to be respected, and pursuing it is going to take everything you’ve got, every last ounce of energy and verve.

Anything I say beyond this point is going to sound more cliché and vague than it already is. I hope you encounter the best and worst of New York, and make brilliant of both. In the end my wishes, though long winded as they usually are, can be mercifully summarised: be brave.

This is a letter for a friend who’s leaving on exchange to study film. In many ways I hope I get to do the same with writing. Only time will tell.