Category Archives: Writing

Lost in thought

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Summer came a few days ago, with me not quite knowing what to feel about it or want from it. I had been trapped inside myself for so long that I only knew how to be numb and confused.

Pawing through my own insides for the feelings I was supposed to have only created more questions and made me nervous, so I decided I would simply live as the moment dictated.

In between lunch and dinner dates I wander around on my own, trying to let every thought and perception touch my mind as lightly as possible. I reflect on the months that have passed, trying to reconcile myself to what has happened.

It’s possible to strive so much for control that you simply lose control. Perhaps that is what obsession means.

Everything happened so suddenly this year. It started with an inexplicable feeling of inner unsettledness, a feeling of something always running in the background of my mind, and I remember just feeling very tired all the time.

And then there came the empty weeks, lengths of free time in which I sunk into torrents of endless thought, letting the hours turn into days and weeks while I sat panicking and unable to get anything done. The more I thought, the more I felt confused, and the harder I fought to regain a sense of balance and coherence. In the end I completely lost both, along with my sense of place and my sense of self. And in the end, I was no longer sure what I had been trying to protect in the first place. I had become a shell of myself, barely human. And still, like an overturned bicycle with wheels still whirring, I couldn’t stop.

I wandered around aimlessly, sometimes anxious, other times weighed down by a blanket of emptiness that was about as close as I got to comfort. Other people seemed to me to be shining, while I felt my own presence dim and shrivel inside.

***

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It’s warm and breezy outdoors. Everywhere on the streets and in shops windows are the colours of summer– fuchsia and turquoise, orange and yellow. I remember looking at a colourful display a few nights before and suddenly feeling like I wanted to put lots of flowers in my hair. It was one of the first times I remember myself wanting to do something for summer, and it made me shake a little inside.

Sometimes in my head I write letters, conveying these little thoughts or little victories to people far away, or not so far away. In reality, the value of these little moments is not easy to convey. But I carry an envelope with some letter paper in my backpack anyway, in case I suddenly feel like trying.

These days I’m feeling the waters recede. Almost, almost, I’m breaking the surface. I’m learning to breathe again, finding that I can. On the way home, the sound of the train soothes me as I lean by the coach doors, and I feel the warm six o’clock light wash over me from the window.

As I walk home everything smells green and warm. Birds chirp and fly from tree to rooftop. I feel like I can almost sink into the golden light behind the clouds. Almost there.

***

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Sometimes at home I find little pieces of paper lying around. On them, scrawled in my own handwriting, are words like “Focus. Just breathe. Everything is alright”. I remember writing these things, and scratching them out, and re-writing them again, and again. Calming myself down didn’t work if I did it in words, because I could never get the words right. The words were always wrong. Even the simplest things had to be tweaked and rewritten over and over again. Why were the words always wrong?

I tear up these little papers and throw them away when I find them. It’s unfortunate. I know the words tried hard for me. I just couldn’t let them be enough.

It’s never enough.

Sitting by the fountain today, watching the light glint on the silvery surfaces of surrounding buildings, it occurred to me that our strengths can never be separated from our weaknesses. They are actually but one and the same.

***

“Hello, tiny star
Can you hear me call?
I’m so blind as everything at birth

If I could flow against these nights
Straighter than the string of light
I would lay these hands on time”

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Rain City

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I spent the early part of the afternoon after my paper sitting on some concrete steps in a shopping centre, nibbling a taiyaki ice cream. The place was cavernous, deep-based and high-ceilinged, with a gaping entranceway sealed with a screen of rain.

A fantastic lightning storm was going on outside by the time I decided to head home. On the way to the train platform I stopped to look over the canal, with its gushing torrents of brown water. I watched a bottle get stuck, hitting against the slope of the channel repeatedly before finally being washed rapidly downstream. A yellow construction worker’s hat came by, floating like an overturned turtle shell, slowly sinking beneath the surface as water splashed over its edges. And that’s life, I thought to myself. I took in a deep breath as a cool breeze blew in my face.

Getting off the train, I walked by the street to the bus stop, feeling the white spray against my ankles and my face, like a million tiny crystallized butterfly souls. Reflected in the rain were the vague colours of quiet and disquiet, the orange of windows and the reds and greens of traffic. I imagined behind its screen a thousand butterflies hiding sleepily in secret places – Little gems of confidence, roosting quietly in every corner.

 

Quiet

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The river in the morning – it surprised me as I emerged from the cool, shadowy interior of the Esplanade and met with the river bay. The water is different in the morning light. In the softness of it, one can take in the whole expanse of the water at once – wide and shimmering, blue and clear.

The Starbucks at the Boathouse was empty and smelled of wood and rope and coffee. The past few days I have begun to feel a little more right with the world – I’m better able to keep calm and curb my unproductive hyper-analyses, and I feel like less of a stranger to myself.

Tomorrow we begin our papers. We’ll grasp with our hands those fragile structures of words we call rules, watch the way they come together and fall apart when faced with the irony and whimsy of daily life. And I’ll think of the way thoughts drift through our minds, each one as delicate as a snowflake in its random beauty. Think of the way it can overwhelm when out of control, in torrents of white.

Tread softly, softly, through words, through thought, through the little worlds you move through by the push and pull of language. And always, stay bright.

Wit’s End

photo_2015-04-10_20-38-35     “The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t thought about it.” ~ Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

I woke up in the evening feeling as though I had been overthinking in my sleep. It’s a sickening feeling, to get up so uneasy, feeling like something is unresolved and you don’t even know what it is.

I wish I could drift through the days peacefully, just taking in what’s around me – the lights, the sounds, the colours – a sense of place.

Wake up in my room with the smell of the sheets, sound of the fan whirring softly, coolness of the air, slight dampness on my back, and gently crawl to my table to work through some more words, thinking puzzles.

Sit in the library, in cafes, not thinking too much about anything in particular. Smell the coffee, the wood tables, the density of words, and the lightness of thought. Satisfy myself with a drink and a task.

Walk through the airport, big-bellied planes moving slowly amongst blinking lights outside, think of the way it feels to be gazing out from behind one of those little oval windows, huddling in a blanket, everything vibrating.

I could probably use more calm spaces now – both outside and inside myself. I keep twisting my mind over, through anxious moments and overexcited moments, trying to find a suitable state of being that I can settle in. I’m no longer sure if it’s my agitation that is the real problem or it’s my overthinking about the agitation that’s the real problem. What is a good day supposed to look like? I ask myself. What can I do to stop myself slipping into these flights of fancy, or falling into cycles of rumination? Is work an answer? Is creation an answer? Is focus an answer? Being with friends? Being present? I feel sick from running through the same thought process over and over again.

We’ve been through this before, haven’t we? At every stage in the process, I get myself tangled in thought. I make problems that are really non-problems seem so much bigger than they are. Really if I just keep moving forward, all these obstacles will probably reveal themselves to be nothing more than mist in the air. But sometimes the hardest step to take is a step back.

Letting go

It is a strange place to be meeting, at twenty. In many ways, we still have the hearts of children. Yet adulthood is hurtling itself at us – in another 10 years and we’ll be pigeonholed into little flats, with our little clones, or a perhaps a couple of cats, or both. We meet on the runway, passing each other by as we take flight, leaving only traces.

In this way, everything was breaking up in front of me. I began to notice it, in text messages that fell flat, letters so full of fluid verbosity that the most important things were not conveyed, in those moments, side by side, talking ad nauseam about the tiresome details of student life, and you suddenly remember that once, we actually liked to sit and look at the sky. I was losing things that were very important to me, not knowing if I would get them back.

When did words begin to fail? There ought to be so much more to say – like the fact that I’m sorry. Sorry I was never a good listener to you, sorry that the most important things happened right in front of my eyes and I never noticed, sorry that I couldn’t be there in the most crucial moments. And also, those secrets – that to me your happiness is really more important than my own, that I sometimes think I understand more than I dare to convey, that in the deepest part of me my wish is really just to make you feel that you’re okay.

There is such a weight of words that passes into silence, ever reaching second. All that love allows and does not allow. Life is about letting go, so a friend said to me. Perhaps I begin to understand.

Time will not show mercy. Already we are taking flight, soon we will land. Already twenty, soon forty, and then eighty. Very soon, in the blink of an eye, all this will be over. And you hope that by that time you would have said what you needed to say. But even if you haven’t, the loss will lie where it falls. We are all leaving, anyway.

Imagine you are on your death bed. And you are told that right now, you can visit ten friends, just for a short while, and for the last time. Who would you pick? Where would you meet? Would you like to call her name one last time as you rush past each other on a busy street? Would you like to find him in a secluded house in a deep forest, sitting in a corner of a room, waiting for you? What would you say? Would you say what has been on your heart all this while? Or would you speak as though you had endless tomorrows? Or would you just sit, side by side and say nothing at all?

Who would leave first? Would you get up, and smile, and say you must be going now? Or would you be left behind as she walks out the door, rushes past you, steps into the train – goodbye, it was nice seeing you. And then your eyes blur for the last time.

How very quickly, we pass each other by. So hold close to what is important to you, until the very end.

 

This is what it is.

Freshly bathed and powdered, I lay myself across the bed sheets, feeling myself being stretched out across the mindless minutes, spread out like a fabric, like the denim skirt lying across my legs. Warmth from the morning’s run pulses under my cheeks. I’m catching a breather before hitting the books. My arms and legs lie where they fall, worn out from four runs in the past four days. The room is cool and comfortable. I think to myself – perhaps this is all there is.

Blank spaces – how difficult they can be. Days with no motive, no structure. Weeks with no people with whom you feel contented, surrounded. The space stretches before me and around me.

Some things could be better. But things are as they are. It’s not alright. But it is the way it is. Wondering about whys and whats and until whens will only worsen my inner restlessness. It’s time I just got myself moving.

Perhaps this is all there is.

A place like this.

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This life, and the comfortlessness of it.

Gray light seeped into the room, and a familiar confusion prodded me awake, like a question turning and forming within me. I closed my eyes again, snoozing uneasily for another 2 hours. So much for wanting to wake up early to prepare for class. I ought to feel guilty, but I can no longer count the number of weeks since I last touched my books – a few more wasted hours doesn’t make much of a difference.

My thoughts shifted slowly within me, like a restless mob getting ready to riot. I dressed, powdering my face and pinning back my hair in the cool darkness of the room. The days have been terribly warm, the sun as searing and relentless as my thoughts. It’s been making me wish I could hide in my cold, dark room and not emerge for a long time.

It’s been a nightmarish sort of week, falling in and out of obsessive thinking, my mind always panicked, driven by strange irrational fears. Work doesn’t get done, I can’t read, can’t draw. At night I sit in disgust and hopelessness, contemplating my condition, sometimes with tears, sometimes entering into intense imaginative episodes to distract myself from the turmoil, not feeling quite human anymore.

I began my journey to school, feeling numb, train-wrecked. I’m done contemplating. I’ve learnt more about myself than I care to know. There is no answer to my irrational fears. There is no benefit in being disgusted in the messiness of my mind. And all this overthinking – perhaps in a way, it was really just my subconscious method of trying to fill my emptiness.

Plodding along in the heat, hollow and numb, I finally felt my mind slow down to a more manageable pace. But I continued to carry a familiar unsettled feeling deep within me as I walked up the path towards my school. Comfortless, this world is just comfortless.

The day started kindly, with kind faces, gentle exchanges. In the later hours sometimes around my friends I felt chocked with neediness, but that feeling was moderated by some pleasurably normal conversations that made me feel more at home with myself. I gently restrained my inner restlessness, trying to learn to be okay. Sometimes the thought would hit me, while looking at all the unfamiliar faces – how normal everyone is! How focused, how functional, how sociable. What is a person like me doing in school?

It’s useless as a paperweight, I remember my friend saying, watching a perfectly round little pebble he’d picked up roll across the table. But that doesn’t make it of any less worth as a stone.

Not of any less worth, not of any less worth. In the evening I went running. The feeling of exertion, of having something stuck in my chest, something fighting you as you desperately try to press ahead – it was rather like the feeling of everyday life, intensified. Only today can continue into tomorrow, I repeated the words over and over in my head, trying to swat away the distracting thoughts flying in and out of my mind.

Pushing my bicycle towards the road, dripping with sweat, I looked over the canal to the dim colours of the sky and the warm lights starting to come on in the housing estates. I wonder if there’s a place for me, here in this comfortless city. I feel so stripped of wonder, bereft of feeling, craving the warmth and fondness I left behind in another city almost a year ago.

Back in the room, I stretch and play a song, defeated.You know better than I: Perhaps God has a plan, perhaps God has a plan. Perhaps somehow, I’ll find myself, find compromises where there are no answers, and perhaps even find out what it means to have a beautiful day, in a city like this.

All this light

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There was so much gold beyond the veranda today, it made me ache to be outside. I walked a short distance down the road, feeling dwarfed by the trees. It would only be for a short while. These days it does not rain, but somehow the air is always cool. There’s something about the transience of the light and the coolness of the air on my skin that has made the days seem so surreal. I felt immediately soothed, walking and breathing and looking up to the bright sky beyond the high, heavy branches of trees.

It’s a painfully bright world, one that keeps spinning on. Most days I just don’t know how to feel my place in it. There is no substance or form to my thoughts and feelings these days, unsettling though they may be. They whistle through my mind like the wind in the leaves. And often I just feel deeply tired inside. The world is big and golden and there, yet I have nothing to grab hold of, nowhere to find rest. The days, they slowly warm me, and also make me shiver with every breath.

Final flight home.

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I’m lucky to be sitting on an airplane for the fourth time this holiday. I like being carried in this slow rhythmic motion, up and down, as though in a cradle. I like the gentle vibrations, the soft blankets, the quiet dimness, the isolation from the world.

It’s been 3 weeks away from home, from the white slopes of Hokkaido to the cluttered, vibrant streets of Tokyo, to the cold marshy meadows of the Cotswolds and the familiar grey streets of London. Before this journey I was in such a poor state of mind that I didn’t even want to fly anywhere. It seems characteristic of disturbed minds to desire for all things to remain as they are. And perhaps it is that which leads to the curious tendency of depressed people to cling to their depression and reject possible routes out of suffering even where such routes clearly present themselves. In retrospect now, I am glad I embarked, glad for the excitement of Japan and the comforts of London. Three weeks away from the writing and reading and the anxiety of too many words and too many muddy thoughts, I feel like I’ve had a good mental reset.

The past few days the thought of going home and school starting has been filling me with a sickening sense of dread. In part, I am afraid of the sadness coming back. A few days ago I heard a song that I used to have on endless replay on those difficult nights where the pain prevented me from getting done any of the work in front of me. Suddenly I felt a wave of memory and an accompanying anguish. It is strange how sounds and smells can trigger such sensation-rich memories. Every time I think about looking at notes or cases I feel sick inside, as though I can no longer separate the sight of my law materials from the inner anguish I struggled with whilst they sat in the background.

I’ve been bathing in comfort since coming to London. Though many people have been away travelling or busy with family, I still had ample time in the presences of familiar people. I sat in friend’s flats, enjoyed high teas, went for walks through the familiar greys and reds and dark greens of the streets. I enjoyed being the sole occupant of a large bedroom. All these things relaxed me, and also made the thought of going home more daunting. I fear being separated from all that is familiar and kind. I fear the harsh programs and structures, and how artificial and inorganic they make life feel. I fear that sense of disconnect and the anxiety of not knowing what is going on and not wanting others to know it. I fear the fatigue from having no place to rest at home. I fear how it made me lose the quiet assurance I have always forged ahead with.

I remember whenever it rained and I needed to get out of the house I would just put on a jacket and hop onto my bike and cycle out into the downpour, with hardly a sense of the silliness of it. Just go, I would tell myself. It can’t be helped. Now I wonder that I did such things. It was that constant disconcertedness, coupled with anxiety and depression that numbed my sense of reality and drove me to do silly things or to carry things out in a silly way.

As I type this the plane has just gotten rocky. Over the PA a crew member tells everyone not to use the lavatories and the lift infants out of the bassinets. Perhaps I also ought to stop writing for now, and just allow myself to rest in the rocking of this vessel for the last 3 hours of my flight. Perhaps now, after bringing home these pieces of my London life packed into my suitcase, I will be able to live a little more like myself.

Good night.

+65 for a day

Sitting at home in the short window of time I have in between one flight and the next. Today its been gray skies and lush green and me near my old school together with a friend. It’s late now and things are everywhere. I don’t feel packed. Tomorrow the madness of travel will begin again and make me wonder why I bother to do these things to myself. But for now, I am calm.

It’s been quite a year. I had a beautiful spring in London doing all sorts of crazy things, a sudden course change, and a return home to a new house, all the while slowly sinking into a sea of deep longing and unresolved emotion. It must have begun in London, this gradual opening of space, and the surfacing of hidden things, the things that have quietly been haunting my life. What began as a pervasive anguish turned into a low-grade but crippling depression, a pain in my chest that made it hard to get through the day. The week before my flight to Japan I seemed to have hit a new low. I felt on the brink of tears the whole day, and cried uncontrollably at night. In the midst of my trembling and sobbing I felt I finally heard some of the words my heart had been silently screaming all this while.

And then it rained, and I broke. I wandered out into the night, clutching my stuffed rabbit, sat in the dark, whispered a prayer.

After that night the feelings suddenly lifted. I felt a little numb, a little strange, but I got busy preparing for my trip and put my thoughts aside. On the first night at the airport hotel in Chitose airport, my brother and I watched snow fall in the window. I was struck by the peacefulness of the scene, one worthy of a children’s book – a boy and his older sister watching the snow.

Perhaps, it is about time I let the losses lie where they fall. 20 years I have hurt and hungered and in my hurt blocked myself from the very things that would heal me. I know not what to do with myself now. But slowly, slowly, perhaps I will breathe again. I do not know where the child inside of me has wandered to now. Perhaps she is sitting in a white world, watching the snow fall, quietly waiting for her world to come undone.