I Wore a White Shirt to Art Class

I wore a white oxford button on the first day of school because I wanted to look presentable.  People who wear such attires often look presentable. And so I wanted to be that guy and so I wore a white shirt to my first class.

It was an art class. I should have known.

Charcoal in hand and white sheet in front of me where all the charcoal should go. We go through lines, curves, values. We go through the history of art from then to now to God knows when. And I don’t know when either because art seems to stretch on to the future as well because as long as there are people in that future and there will be art. There will be chances for 23 year-old men to get their shirts dirtied should they wear light coloured shirts to art classes. I think about lines.

I think about how you can’t quite draw an object fully, to represent it fully because no matter how you try, the distance between you and the object is something that already distorts. Lines aren’t as straight or as crooked or sometimes you draw lines when there aren’t even any lines at all. The object exists outside of you and you can’t ever just conceptualise it with 100% accuracy and as long as you can’t you realise the error is already in the blueprint. I pull my hand back to reevaluate my attempt at drawing a cluster of objects and all I manage is a thin line of charcoal across my shirt.

Objects in your mind are conceptualised and bubbling around in that fun space but now comes the terrible part; you have to get it from head to hand and hand to pencil and pencil to paper. You go through these manifold translations, where some are better at representing than others. The pencil to the paper portion can simply be decided by the quality of the pencil and the paper. Some pencils have the sort of rough quality to it that renders things easy to rub and make faded and form more veritable impressions of shadow and darkness. Other pencils are just nicer to hold. But in the end it’s not the materials you have that really define your work. It’s the whole head to hand portion which messes people up.

Sometimes you’re good at it; and for good artists on good days the idea of the object flows sumptuously to the page and on the page the art flourishes. For some other artists it is the emotion that they capture very well and how it interacts with the conceived object and that flows around in their head for a while before it leaks out from their hands and you get a work that is not objective but tainted with some emotional valence and you’re suddenly taken to a different place in time when maybe you saw her standing there beside you at a museum or when you saw rabbits playing in their pens. The soft fur, the languid stares. The potential to feel something is always in the art. But the feelings you feel and the ideas conceptualised sometimes when flowing out of unskilled or unsure hands looks many shades away from the truth you hold in yourself. And it that sense art can serve to really disappoint. You try and you try but your heart, you realise, is a fortress that doesn’t let any of itself out by virtue of a poor slight of hand, of unavailable resource, or inability to garner enough faith in yourself. All this disallows that which you feel to be cast out into the open.

I scratch my ribs and leave another dark, less defined mark on my shirt.

I think again as I sit there looking at scenery with pencil in hand, thinking of how I’ll miss home even before I leave it. And then when I leave home I think of how I’ll hate the place I might go to and I think about it so much that I hate it already, even before I set foot. I think about how sometimes learning a new skill is like that process of leaving and hating. You discover yet you doubt and through that doubt you unearth what is really expected of you. You feel so exposed that it’s almost unfair. You try to hold on to anything that reminds you of what you are. I think of the stories to tell when I try to draw and I think of how much of me, if any of me at all, is in the end product.

I wonder if untrained hands possess any soul at all. Maybe they do, but maybe those souls are…how should I put it… Yes, tainted, in some way or another.

All I know is that when I wore a white shirt to art class, I left my class with that shirt in various shades, with some sort of tiredness registered on the collar along with a irritability on the sleeves. This shirt might not have emotions, but I feel for the shirt. It must miss its former self. To have some ‘character’ isn’t all there was to life, it seems.

I feel bad for my shirt, but I know that in time to come this shirt will go through the wash and it will be as if nothing happened. It will be absolved of all its past filth and find new meaning in whiter shores.

But for now, the shirt remains as it is, hanging in my closet, tainted.







The Opposite of Good Luck is Not Bad Luck

I know what you’re thinking. What in the world am I even saying?

I had a heated discussion about luck with my friends today and a bunch of things can happen in your life and you know; saying stuff like “that was so lucky” or “my luck was so bad today” is very commonplace. We’re an Asian society, we thrive on this sort of belief and gleeful rhetoric.

Also, my wallet was stolen today. I left it on the heart of a tabletop and looked away for ten seconds while standing one meter from the table.

When I looked back, poof, it was gone. I checked everywhere, asked everyone and even ran to the (male) toilets around the area to search the cubicles but what up, the wallet was gone.

I wasn’t especially devestated, but who wants to lose their wallet, really? To replace an IC costs 100 dollars the first time round, and every bank card had to be deactivated for good measure. Understandably, my parents weren’t impressed and gave me their own piece of mind.

It hurts to lose things. In that ten second window, what seemed to be a minor lapse in judgement turned into something massively saddening. Unlucky, it may be and in life unlucky doesn’t seem to listen to your excuses.

And then my brother came back and told me that he had gone to Mcritchie Reservoir to run. In all his teenage ignorance, he somehow managed to leave his wallet and handphone on an unguarded bench, trained for an hour, and came back to an intact handphone and wallet. One hour! And not even the monkeys shared a remote interest in his wallet. Given all the factors surrounding his amazing story, I gave him a pat on the back and told him, you were lucky today man, I took all the luck in my situation and gave it to you.

So what’s the deal here with all this random wallet-abandoning banter? What I’m trying to say is, that the same phenomenon that causes a wallet to be stolen after ten seconds is the same thing that keeps a wallet intact after being left unattended for one hour. In other words, good luck and bad luck share the same parents, and that is of unexpectedness. It pays no heed to our emotions or expectations, but just happens.

So when the word “luck” is used, it basically points to when something with a low probability of occurrence happens. Winning a lottery ticket, getting your car scratched, spotting the right questions for an exam, being diagnosed with terminal cancer despite maintaining a healthy lifestyle; anything to do with low likelihoods and terrible odds being realised pretty much is what luck seems to point at. The moniker of “good” and “bad” is a human rendering of this situation, and the way we as people perceive situations as helpful and prosperous or harmful and detrimental. These two are only opposite if you think it is, and so in a pure sense, still mean the same thing.

So, what should be the opposite of luck? The opposite of luck is basically no luck. No luck is when you’re running late and the bus application tells you 6 minutes and the bus really comes in 6 minutes, or when weather forecasts comes true or when your phone screen stays intact after the first drop. That’s no luck, where something you expect to happen, happens without you feeling exceptionally good or bad about it. And from there, you go on with your life, sans comments, elation, or regret. Sounds fun, doesn’t it, to live a life where everything that you expect to happen, happens?

But what is a life without comments, elation or regret? What is a life without a tinge of luck? What is a life without bizarre happenings and strange occurrences? What is life without the good and the bad? And most importantly, what is life without the courage to pursue luck? Without the thirst for opportunities, the anxiety that comes witht the overwhelming possibility of failure? Without the deep longing for just one more chance? It would be a life void of irrational choices, brave discovery and purposeful mornings.

Embracing luck is embracing life, every last dying inch of it.


The “Life’s Like That” Syndrome

Recently there’s been a really popular song by a certain artist called James Bay. Hold back the river is its title, and at the start of the song the lines go like this: try to keep you close to me / but life got in between.

It’s melodic, somber and touching. But upon closer listening, what in the world is it trying to say? What in the world does “life got in between” even mean?

Sure, this is a phrase we use all the time, and it comes in many variations. We have the typical “life’s like that”, or “c’est la vie” as the French call it. There’s the more Singaporeanised version of ” that’s just life lor” to even the absurd “it’s like that”. 


What in the world are we trying to say? Every time we encounter some problem that seems to be out of our control we start blaming the all encompassing concept of “life” and “the universe”. Sure, it makes us feel better, that we’re all in some common struggle. But what are we actually trying to do here?

Back in JC my friend and I were shoving each other around and one of us knocked down my teachers laptop off the table. This foolish act displaced the screen of the laptop from its frame and it was permanently damaged. We each had to pay a few hundred dollars for the repairs and the teacher in question got really cross with us.

My form teacher was really nice and pointed out to my friend and I that “that’s just how it is”, that this kind of thing just happens now and then through your life and you just have to suck it up and deal with the consequences! At that time, I must admit, it was comforting to hear.

But I was just a JC kid then and a few hundred dollars was quite a shock to me. I think to calm us down warrented the use of all-encompassing gemeralities. However, I believe the blaming of “life” and “the universe” becomes a problem when people start doing it all the time regardless of individual circumstance.

And we see it so much! In pop songs , in tragic break ups, when teachers console their students, when friends console each other. “Life will do things to you”, “eh bro that’s just life”, “look ah this circle is your life and this dot in the middle, it’s you!” Amazing how many variations of the same meaning you can come up with to justify every mistake or unfortunate event that befalls.

Here’s what I think. I believe that we, as people are horribly ill equipped when it comes to dealing with our own mistakes and facing consequences. No, I’m serious. I believe we are the ultimate pathogens of the “that’s life” syndrome.

I (and perhaps we) tend to shift all the blame and all the screw ups to the large dartboard that is life and the universe. I know it’s quite effective, for if you tell people this, they’ll be fooled and think to themselves, oh yeah everyone makes mistakes so it’s ok if you make mistakes as well. But all things aside, how does it make the mistakes any more acceptable? It’s like killing someone and in your defence you tell the judge “but people die all the time”.

That granted, some unfortunate circumstances are totally beyond your control. If you walk down the street and a bird releases it’s poop on you or if an airplane crashes on your house and kills everyone, you would definitely blame the universe. Go ahead, the universe is at fault and is there for you to blame. In a sense that’s what life insurance is for, unforseen circumstamces when the universe steps in. And it makes sense, because you had NO control over any of this.

However, if you are late for a meeting, cheated on your not so significant other or threw too many smoke grenades at your recruit who later dies of an allergic reaction, don’t even begin to search for excuses. If you screw up in any way that you had some control over, don’t for one minute blame it on life or the universe.

You only have yourself to blame.

(image courtesy of http://sd.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/i/keep-calm-because-c-est-la-vie-1.png)