You Don’t Just Tell Someone to Chill 

Coming off a fulfilling summer, I would say that life is looking up right now. Like most people, I am chill as they come when things go my way. A house over my head, friends that care, a school to attend. I count my blessings like a Shepard his sheep. I don’t sweat the small stuff when the horizon is flat. I live my life with optimism and I want the same for the people around me.

For many of us who live our lives like that it’s especially easy to want our friends to be happy. And when I mean happy, I mean always happy. We want for our friends to be well, and we equate wellness with happiness and will do anything to see them that way. Whenever our friends tell us about their problems we tell them to chill, saying this word with the finesse of a firefighter dousing flames.

And the logic seems to work out. Things happen in our lives, many of them bad. We try our best to change things but sometimes are not able to. And you know what they say; that the only thing you can control is your mind so if you tell your mind to chill then everything will be fine; you won’t be sad and when you’re not sad then you’re well.

I have come to the conclusion, however, that wanting your friends to be chill is selfish. Sure, being chill is nice and all. It is a state of being that we silently strive for in our everyday lives and go through extensive pains and spend exorbitant amounts of money to uphold. 

But very much like having supper or owning a hamster; there is a right time and place for chillness. Chillness is when you just finished two hours of research and are looking at traffic pass by above an overhead bridge on the way home. Chillness is listening to Bach alone when all your friends cannot get over One Direction. Chillness is for when you are ready for it, for when your mind needs to rest and the intensity of your soul needs to subside. 

Chillness is not about suddenly stemming the flow of tears just because your friend accuses you for having no chill. Chillness is not downing can after can of beer to get over that ex and laughing too hard with your friends, banging the table too loudly. Chillness is not about getting over something you are not yet ready to get over. Being chill is not the remedy for sadness. Going through sadness is. 

I often see sadness as a tunnel through a towering mountain. It offers a way across challenges, but a dark and lonely one as such. There is no chill in this tunnel. Often it is just you, alone, walking forward in the dark, desperately feeling for any semblance of yourself, any guidance that the jagged walls can bring. You really want to get out but alas sadness offers no shortcuts. The only way out of sadness is through it, where you will face yourself and make sense of how and why you feel this way. It is suffocating, terrible and some of us never quite make it out of that tunnel. Ultimately, it is a journey of constant self-acknowledgment. 

For anyone who is not in this tunnel of sadness with you, it is too easy to say “just chill, it’s going to be ok.” However, there is real danger in telling someone to chill. It makes them hyper-aware of their heightened emotional state, and worst of all, makes them feel other-ed because of it. They start thinking of why it is them that have been singled out to be the un-chill ones in a world that seems so abundantly chill.

We treat emotion like it is something that can be tempered with and controlled when that is hardly the case. It’s almost as absurd as telling a stab victim not to feel pain or a mourner not to cry at a funeral. Just because you can be chill, doesn’t mean that others should be chill or should even try to be. Chillness was never a given, but a privilege.

So next time you notice a friend trudging through their own tunnels of sadness I challenge you to gear up and go into that tunnel with them. Hold their hand, stay up with them till 3 am, bring them to a quiet spot where the lights are dim and the air is cool and listen to them, sit there quietly but always, always be there.

You don’t just tell someone to chill, but rather try to understand why they are not. Because chillness can only be experienced and not commanded. Because ultimately to listen carefully, not just with your ears but your presence is what it actually means to care.

Because that is what your friend really ever needed.

 

Oreo

Oreo recently underwent a severe tick infection and  woke up one day as a giant tick.

It all started from a few ticks here and there, peppered across his body. He probably caught it from rolling around in grass patches during the evening walks. We should have been more careful and kept to the pavements. Then from there they overtook, fought their way through antiseptic barriers, prying fingernails and extensive grooming. The ticks won, and infested my house with the efficacy of a virus, the frightening imposition of an unreasonable law. My dog suffered, and so did we.

But one morning, all the ticks were gone, every last one. We made sure to check the entire house after our ordeal was over, and sure enough, every last morsel had mysteriously vanished. Except Oreo stood now, crouched over the kitchen sink, a gigantic tick. He was four feet long and as thick as a puffy boaster before your head sinks in.

No one was about to sink anything into the monstrosity. My parents cordoned off the kitchen area, holding their ground. My father told me to stand back from the door as he regarded the thing with fear. “He may stick its stinger thing through the door and suck your blood dry,” he warned. But he’s our dog! I insisted. No one was listening, much less convinced. My mother quickly dialled pest control.

I walked to the window and observed him. The tick had a brownish back that tapered to black towards his head, a few hairs poking out between his eyes. You didn’t notice these things when seen in miniature form, but this was as good as a microscopic view of the damn pest. It was revolting. The stinger probed out, waving about like a wizard wielding his wand in search for an object to cast a spell on. I looked on in horror infused fascination. I was still convinced it was my dog. It had to be.

“Pest control won’t believe us!” Shouted my mother, phone dangling from trembling hands. We were in a state of positive panic. “Why did you tell them the whole truth?” Blared father. My mother placed the phone on the receiver and took a deep breath. “They can’t catch that thing with a butterfly net.”

And she was right. Perhaps a bear trap would have to do, but to think of the juices that would explode and dirty the entire kitchen if it had to come down to using a bear trap. It needn’t come to that, I decided. I had to do something before my parents resorted to the unthinkable. They hadn’t mentioned killing him, but I was afraid the current sentiment would lead to that inevitable conclusion.

I opened the door. My mother ran forward but father held her back. A parent shouldn’t have to watch their kid die, but I was confident they wouldn’t have anything to worry about. I stepped in and closed the door behind me. The kitchen lights were turned off and my eyes adjusted to the darkness. It wasn’t so easy to make out his entire form from the brightness outside.

Beady black eyes followed me as I pranced around the perimeter of the kitchen. He stood on the sink. I was not sure at all about anything he would do, but I was confident it would be anything but to hurt me. I took a can of biscuits from the top shelf. His gaze never left me, and a slight pivot could be discerned as his six legs adjusted to balance on the edges of the sink. It became a game of who could read whom first.

I took out a cream cracker from the biscuit tin and presented it to him. His antennae began to move about wildly, then uncontrollably, almost like ruffled leaves in the autumn breeze. But really, it was more like a dog wagging its tail. It was he. “Oreo,” I called out. He looked up at me. I threw the cracker on the floor in front of the sink and he jumped off like a loaded spring and devoured it. My mother let out a scream outside and disappeared from view behind the glass door. My father watched on, pale faced, holding on to the doorknob, about to burst in on the first sign of trouble. I was doing well. I had to do more to prove he was our dog, and not a hungry tick after our blood.

I reached my hand forward, very daringly and with a heart of faith. Nothing was going to happen. I could pet his brown scaly forehead like I always used to. The texture would be different, the being entirely the same. He made soft squeaky sounds, his demented proboscis of certain death waved about manically, attempting to feel at any flesh that came nearby. But he liked me! I was his owner and he my dog. He wouldn’t use his member against me, would he? It was hard to tell but I reached out, one inch preceding the next before I was a subway 6-inch away.

The door burst open and my father charged in with a hammer raised up high, I could glance from the peripheries, something dark and unnecessary being raised in some sort of aggressive stance, a warrior with his mallet. A huge swing came thundering down with the swiftness of finality. Bang. The floor was struck. Oreo clambered over me before I could react, jumping on my chest but never intending to attack me. One of his six legs clinched onto my shoulder and he propelled himself over me, artfully dodging the hammer, scuttling between my father’s legs like a football. My father fell forward in shock, tumbling over me. The door was ajar, and so Oreo did the sensible thing and scuttled out. Mother was laid out on the floor, struck unconscious by the morning’s interesting turn of events. He sniffed her face before deciding that licking her with the proboscis of doom would do no one any favours. He moved on to the front door, and my mother was none the wiser to his advances. I was relieved.

Father got up in an instant and made a run for the animal. He was in full fight. He’s not going to hurt us, I wanted to say. I should have said. It was hard to get through to a man hardened in life, seeing fingernail size ticks in his fifty-odd years then suddenly encountering a larger, much cuter cousin. Did it even occur to him that maybe, just maybe, this creature was just my dog in a ticks form? Of course not, I thought. We live in a world where form is everything. He would as soon believe Hitler to love the Jews.

I followed closely behind, and saw for myself the true horror of Oreo’s newfound abilities. His proboscis punched hole after hole through the wooden front door, tearing the base of it apart before our eyes like a raging elephant impaling his trainer. Splinters flew, along with my satisfied imagination. My father stepped back, and so did I. It was a work of art. Not the door, mind you. Art is the fact that it was the door, and not us, that was going though this severe treatment. Art is the beauty of a situation despite its potential for ugliness.

He punched a hole big enough for himself and felt about the edges with his feelers. He looked back at us one last time, beady black eyes shimmering. So long old friend, I muttered under my breath.

My Dad and I watched as he scuttled out into the streets. Strangely, there were no screams. Not yet.

“Was he wearing a collar?” I asked.

My father did not reply.

Think of the Love that was Found

Think of the love that was found, and how many people wander about their entire lives, never quite finding such love, never fully delving in such throes of passion. Think about how the entire year had gone by and this love only grew. Think about that for a while.

Be happy for this, not scared. You’re about to embark on deeper commitments that of which will test your discipline and daily mettle. How much do you really want this? Ask yourself this question everyday; when classes end, before you sleep, before you embark on yet another chapter. Keep asking yourself: what is it you’re writing for, and maybe the answer will creep up on you when you least expect it.

Think about love that was lost, love put on hold, passions that had no follow up. Think about how action need not equate to intention, that acts of love need not equate to love itself, that love may just be much more than what you do, but sometimes manifests in the things you don’t. Don’t think of failure as the affirmation that love is beyond you. Think of failure as love that overflowed and underwhelmed all at once, that gave evidence of feelings, albeit stuck in the wrong places, like fine wine downed by an alcoholic or fluffy tiramisu put into jars (I hate cakes in general).

Think about those who want to love but are unable to. You know how that feels, so feel that again, and in feeling the emptiness, learn to appreciate all that is whole in your life. You know you haven’t been doing that lately so learn to. Maybe just this once, before you forget.

Think again of the love that was found. From the quiet nights after 2 am to the surge of passion on the bus ride from Toa Payoh to Clementi. Know that this desire will follow you. It will leave its scent on the nape of your collar, the stench of its intimate parts deep within the roots of your hair. You will get lost in a metaphor and play with the similes. You will find out new things everyday, search deeper, feel more and explore what it is that makes you love. This is the closest you’ll come to being yourself, and the funny thing is you don’t even believe this as you type.

But one day you will believe. I believe that one day you will believe. It’s a convoluted faith, but since when was anything convoluted necessarily something to abhor? You love the convolutions, the pain, the dilemmas and the misery. You want nothing but to dive headlong into trouble. But when you come up for air, I want you to remember that you are a lucky man, lucky to have found what you love. A lucky man indeed, even though that doesn’t sound convincing to you just yet.

My #1 Fear

What am I
but a mere observer,
the channel that carries thought
a vessel that exists but does not participate,
that conveys but does not meddle,
that thinks but does not do.
What am I,
but a lowly coward
that will only realise that the things
that mean the most to me,
only do when it’s
too late?
That is
my number one fear,
and I’m getting closer to it
with every
dying
day.

One Year On, and The Rage That Started It All

About two days ago, I realised that this blog space had turned one. 365 days had seeped through the cracks since the day I started this little project. I was blatantly reminded of its origins when I thought of my father’s birthday that passed the night before. I was also reminded of the person I was back then versus the person I am now. A lot has probably changed, though I don’t know exactly how to judge these changes. I’d been through army, went travelling, taught in my Secondary School for a term, celebrated my 21st birthday around familiar company and finally am in university now. This space is a tiny logbook of that incredible journey, along with the lessons I’ve learned and the feelings I’ve felt along the way. And what better way to mark this little anniversary with the reminder of how it all started:

September 17, 2014

I lay in bed, and was feeling absolutely stifled. I was the only one left in my camp, and everyone had booked out. I looked over at the clock. 9pm. A miserable 9pm on an otherwise innocent Friday. Why was I here? My fathers birthday celebration was coming up the next day, and I would not be there. I would be stuck in this bunk, within these walls of the camp, within the pathetic frame they called a bed.

I was suddenly vexed. I was angry at the fact that they could keep me here. I was pissed that after all the suffering they put us through that there was no reward. There was no damn reason for this! There was no reason to feel anything other than tremendous sadness, anger, self pity. It was not so much the physical entrapment that stirred me, for there was food downstairs, there was a bed to lie on and a showerhead to bathe with. It was the walls that I drew up ever so instinctively in my head. Yes, that crippled me to no end. I was trapped. My freedom was effectively wrenched away.

When you go through this loss of freedom in a large group, the burden is spread out. Scoops of solidarity get readily distributed around and you feel like you’re part of a whole. Being alone in my bunk took that privilege entirely out of my hands. I was truly alone, trapped and rendered senseless by a system that cared nothing for me. I was but a datum, a mere number in the large machine that relentlessly spun away, weaving the stolid tapestry of what it means to be Singaporean.

I sat up. I walked out of my room and down the steps. Something outside of my being was controlling this movement, I’m certain of that now. Whether it was rage, or any other facet of my psyche taking over, I cannot be sure to this day. I walked into the small computer room downstairs, and sat at the desktop. The entire room was dark, with only the light from the computer screen illuminating the contours of my face. I started to type. A story flowed out from my fingers, a story about a boy who climbed over a fence to steal curry from a neighbours house. That boy was me. I wrote, and I wrote. Time passed lithely between the strokes of the keyboard but I sat there unapologetically; typing up this story that came so naturally to me, that made its arrival to this earth with lucid steps.

That story turned out to be my first blog post. For some strange (or not so strange) reason, I created this site straight after I was finished, and posted the story. It was a story of how I climbed over a fence I had created in my head, a story of how one need not feel apologetic for going mad once in a while. I, of all people, desperately needed that story to guide me through that night. I remember how my finger hovered above the “create blog” button for a good few seconds before I punched in the key with conviction.

All I could think was, that there was a boy that needed his curry, a fence that needed to be scaled, a neighbour that wanted his curry back and most of all, a voice that so desperately needed to be heard. On that stifling September evening, they all found that avenue within these pages.

I have never looked back since.

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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.

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 🙂