Tag Archives: life

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.

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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.

Closed by Elizabeth Drew Stoddard

The crimson dawn breaks through the clouded east,
And waking breezes round the casement pipe;
They blow the globes of dew from opening buds,
And steal the odors of the sleeping flowers.
The swallow calls its young ones from the eaves,
To dart above their shadows on the lake,
Till its long rollers redden in the sun,
And bend the lances of the mirrored pines.
Who knows the miracle that brings the morn?
Still in my house I linger, though the night—
The night that hides me from myself is gone.
Light robes the world, but strips me bare again.
I will not follow on the paths of day.
I know the dregs within its crystal hours;
The bearers of my cups have served me well;
I drained them, and the bearers come no more.
Rise, morning, rise, for those believing souls
Who seek completion in day’s garish light.
My casement I will close, keep shut my door,
Till day and night are only dreams to me.

 

Who knows the miracle that brings the morn? Mornings in our estate are actually uncannily serene. Our wide patio is enfolded by lush palms, ferns, vines – high definition tropical greenery. The swallow calls its young ones from the eaves. Only one quiet road leads into this place.

Last night I was by the old playground, rain dripping and pooling about me, everything tingling and alive in wet darkness. I felt an affinity with my surroundings, a shimmering dampness on my own cheeks. I felt the months pass about me, pondering how this once loathed place now actually feels rather like home. I’ve come a long way from London, inside, me shivering in the tiredness of a depression that has lost even the ability to fuel itself. I’m out of luck, out of answers. The bearers of my cups have served me well… and the bearers come no more.

Perhaps now I’d be a little more ready to pray. But really I’d just like to find a warm safe place and hide myself away, and not come out until I feel better. Till day and night are only dreams to me.

Morning Nocturne by Jill Bialosky

I am glad today is dark. No sun. Sky
ribboning with amorphous, complicated
layers. I prefer cumulus on my
morning beach run. What more can we worry
about? Our parents are getting older
and money is running out. The children
are leaving, the new roof is damaged by
rain and rot. I fear the thrashing of the sea
in its unrest, the unforgiving cricket.
But that’s not it. The current is rising.
The dramas are playing out. Perhaps
it’s better to be among these sandpipers
with quick feet dashing out of the surf than
a person who wishes to feel complete.

 

I am glad today is dark. It was raining this morning. Even before my senses awakened, in my hypnopompic state I seemed to sense it. My spirit deemed it appropriate that it would be.

What more can we worry about? It’s been a strange few days, me swinging between feelings of unease, emptiness and confusion, all with ambiguous source. Perhaps it was the prayer I said, hoping it would help alleviate the sadness I was feeling. I was disquieted by how much it worked. I’m not ready for this sort of divine interference. Or perhaps it’s all this deep talking that I’m not used to. Or maybe this is just regular holiday emptiness. I fear the thrashing of the sea in its unrest

But that’s not it. The current is rising. The dramas are playing out. I spoke of them to someone for the first time – my wild, tender dreams. In my silly little fantasies I envision being woken up gently. To have someone like Cosette’s lady all in white, nice to see and soft to touch, rouse me with a gentle hand, whisper my name. I hope that in heaven I will be small-like. Small and hidden away in someone’s arms, in a quiet forest amidst soft petals and a river flowing. Let the other children explore Narnian seas and conquer mountains, but find me amidst the roses, free of thorns.

My confidante smiled and said, so your wish is for the door to be opened softly. I chuckled and said yes. Start with yourself, she told me. You are already reaching out. You say all this, and that it will never really be, but in your heart of hearts you know…

I know? We all hide our most potent secrets from ourselves. I cried uncontrollably after that conversation because I realised for the first time who it was I have been pining for all this while.

So much for all this Freudian self-discovery. I woke up sick and weak and with a whole lot to do. Mum’s gone out and I still don’t know how to reach her. Some force in me tells me to just tuck these silly longings away and let live. Is that how normal people do it? Perhaps it’s better to be among these sandpipers with quick feet dashing out of the surf than a person who wishes to feel complete.

Consider A Move by Michael Ryan

Consider A Move

The steady time of being unknown,
in solitude, without friends,
is not a steadiness that sustains.
I hear your voice waver on the phone:

Haven’t talked to anyone for days.
I drive around. I sit in parking lots.

The voice zeroes through my ear, and waits.
What should I say? There are ways

to meet people you will want to love?
I know of none. You come out stronger
having gone through this? I no longer
believe that, if I once did. Consider a move,

a change, a job, a new place to live,
someplace you’d like to be. That’s not it,
you say. Now time turns back. We almost touch.
Then what is? I ask. What is?

I first stumbled upon this poem when I returned to Singapore from London, and since then have become quite fond of it. This has been a sad week, because I moved out of my house to a relative’s place, and have been feeling desperately homesick. It’s ironic – I lived alone for so long in London and never missed home, yet a short distance move like this has made me feel so bereft. It was my idea – I wanted the space and the quiet, but now I’m actually missing the angst and the chaos. In any case I shall be remaining here at least for a short while, until there is an appropriate moment to express that I want to return.

The steady time of being unknown. This space does not receive me. I roll on the bed, playing videos and music, trying to fill the emptiness. My body is too heavy. I’m too sad to get stuff done.  I text my friends, hoping for some comfort. I receive a prayer, a few snaps, scattered smiley faces. Not alone, my friend says. Not alone. I close my eyes and try to believe its true.

I drive around. I sit in parking lots, go to school in an attempt to feel like everything is fine. I just don’t feel good, I say. My friend gives me a long hug, buys me dinner, lets me lean on her shoulder. I don’t know why but even the sky looks different, just because I’m going home to a different house tonight.

My mother comes to pass me things. You just need to get used to it, she says. That’s not it, my heart replies, and sinks as she drives away. But if that’s not it, then what is? What is it in the end? Perhaps my heart just wants to go back to a place where it had a chance at being found.

Other Things by Alvin Pang

Other Things

To buy a potted plant is to admit both faithlessness and need. To water the plant, perhaps daily, perhaps once in a while when you remember and the leaves start to droop, is as close to love as it gets.

Other things mean other things.

To light a lamp is to hide darkness in the same closet as sleep, along with silence, desire, and yesterday’s obsessions. To read a book is to marry two solitudes, the way a conversation erases and erects, words prepare for wordlessness, a cloud for its own absence, and snow undresses for spring.

The bedroom is where you left it, although the creases and humps on the sheets no longer share your outline and worldview. In that way, they are like the children you never had time for.

A cooking pot asks the difficult questions: what will burn and for how long and to what end.

TV comes from the devil who comes from god who comes and goes as he pleases. To hide the remote control in someone’s house is clearly a sin, but to take the wrong umbrella home is merely human.

The phone is too white to be taunting you. The door you shut stays shut. The night is reason enough for tomorrow, whatever you believe.

Remember, the car keys will be there after the dance. Walls hold peace as much as distance. A kettle is not reason enough for tears.

The correct answer to a mirror is always, yes.

– Alvin Pang

(This poem balances whimsy and lonely so nicely, I feel like I can read it over and over again for a long time.)

Quiet nights in the living room. I’ve been kicked out of the bedroom. The dog blinks from under the sofa, disturbed by my presence but too polite to do anything about it. I can feel time passing around me, time stored in all these familiar shadows, familiar paraphernalia. Only the dog has full access to all our scent traces – the places where our baby hands marked these same objects. Your things remain where you leave them, although like the sheets in the bedroom, they no longer share your outline and worldview. Like the children you never had time for. 

The dog himself has matts near his collar, his toe-nails are always tapping the vinyl floor until once in a while we remember to trim them. On the table a terrarium that never gets sprayed until we recall it is there, as close to love as it gets. 

I often think it would be nice to pick up the phone and be able to call someone, to ask: how am I supposed to sleep, where am I meant to go, and who will love me now? The phone is too white to be taunting you. Instead I wonder around the kitchen, staring into cupboards looking for satiety. Left on the stove for the people who didn’t eat dinner, a cooking pot asks the difficult questions: what will burn and for how long and to what end. Of course my questions won’t actually be said, they will only linger, the only question is with whom? Words prepare for wordlessness, a cloud for its own absence. 

Unable to accept rest, I linger on the couch with a book, bookmarking its pages with tears. To read a book is to marry two solitudes. Perhaps my author also wrote in tears. I have to stop crying and being so terribly small and seeing hurt everywhere if not I’ll never be able to sleep. The night is reason enough for tomorrow, whatever you believe. I wash my face, say a prayer, look in the mirror. Mirrors always ask too many questions, but the correct answer… is always, yes.

Good night.

Rewind to June

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Inhabiting a new place is like slipping into a fresh mould. When you leave, it is not just a place you leave behind, but a state of mind, a state of self. At the point you realise this, how different and at the same time how familiar the skin you are wearing feels – that is the point where you are first displaced from yourself. It is in this way that the more places we inhabit, the more we feel how little we have in common with ourselves.

***

It was a common thing to hear from my friends who had returned with me from the UK for summer, how different they felt, being home. There’s a feeling which we don’t really have a word for – the feeling of being transplanted from one place to another. It’s not just about traveling, for in this case both places are each in their own way, home. We spoke of the feeling of “wearing a different skin”, the surreality of it, and the initial frustration of it.

Now looking back, the month of June is all a blank to me. It’s almost as though the brain tries its best to wipe out that which makes you uncomfortable. I only remember feeling suffocated and awkward at home, and disconcerted by certain current events at the time – a sickening pull back to reality.

October, and I’ve had half a term in a new school, and been sufficiently sucked into the black hole of endless work that it’s difficult for me to retrieve the feels that floated around in my mind in London.  My friends have returned to the UK, and after the initial shock of another teleport, they have settled in and are busily going about their daily affairs. I suppose at this point it is appropriate to put a stop to further reminiscence, and that is fine with me. I do wish though, like I wished when I came back, weak and frustrated, that I could find some source of inner strength – a way to go through the day with a smile, and be a support to others as well as myself.

Are there words that can do that for you?

Pink

A vignette.

It’s all quiet when I wake up after the procedure. The room is blush pink, like my hospital gown, like my skin. Light filtering in from the window makes the whole room shimmer gently. I smell coffee – there’s a cup steaming on the table, filling the pink room with a roasted scent. Allie is snoozing on the sofa, the sun dances on her long brown hair.

Allie rouses, brushes my forehead with the back of her hand, and gets her coffee.

There are plasters all over my arm – the places where the needles went in. I feel like a ragdoll, all stitched and patched. I feel a pang at the thought because there’s something rather disconcerting about describing yourself as a rag doll. It devalues the body, reduces it to biological mechanics in skin. The shimmery pink air tells me that everything inside me has been put in place – all the pumps and hinges, veins and wires. But is there a use in keeping a body that’s straining to fall apart? If every needle, every clip, every stitch is merely an artificial means of extending the life of the organs for a few more years beyond their natural time, then how different is the final reconstructed vessel from a robot?

I ask Allie what is the difference between being fixed and being healed. There is something richer about the word “healing”, I say. It’s something about the way the vowels ring in your temples and slip honey-like over the roof of your mouth. The word “fixed” sounds like cutting.

Allie makes a remark about how terribly philosophical I am after a surgery. Words have meanings in and of themselves, she says. Their meaning is in their sounds, and how the sounds make you feel.

“My great-grandmother was a nurse,”she told me. “You know what she said? She said that people think the heart is the last thing in the body to die, but it is in fact the first. It is always the heart that first languishes, before the body begins to fail.”

“What is healing, Elle? Healing must be what happens in your heart that gives life back to the body and gives it strength to fight.”

“And how do you heal a heart?” I ask.

Allie is quiet. She sits on the edge of the sofa, coffee cup in her hands, her dark eyes reflecting the sunlight into my own. The shimmers seem to stop dancing, Allie’s coffee ripples, and I can see the sounds of my words are rippling slowly through her mind.

“The question we all want to ask,” I say, “is where can the pain go?”

The light from the window is rosy and orange. Allie opens the curtains and breathes. Her face glows. “Things that are spirit, must be healed by spirit,” she says. “That is what I think, at least.” I imagine at that moment Allie’s sadness flying up to the sky like a flock of birds, looking for a place to disappear.

We watch the light turn to a flaming orange, and then salmon, and then go dark. Allie curls up on the sofa with her computer and a blanket and types away. I go to sleep soothed by the sound of Allie’s typing – the sound of her fingers building words upon words that reverberate in her mind only.

Mid-May

speaker

shoes

up in the trees

picnic

glass

Let’s go outside and sit in the garden a while, with the buggies and the flowers (they too love the sun). Put aside your worries, we’ll sit and sing a spell. If we’re hungry, we’ll put something together, we lack nothing when we share. In the evening light, gather your flickering hearts round, we’ll lay out the blankets, light some candles, and settle down. What’s more to want in the month of May? We’ll lie on our backs, watch the sky, and fall in love some other day.

Why you really are stronger than you think.

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We spend so much of our mental lives travelling backwards and forwards through the dark tunnel of time, gathering fragments of light that enable us to reconstruct the past and forecast the future. Psychology has provided some very counter intuitive insights on the processes by which we reach past the boundaries of the present (beyond which, nothing is certain). One of these is immune neglect.

Immune neglect is our blindness to our own psychological and emotional durability. It refers to people’s “failure to anticipate how much their psychological immune systems will hasten their recovery” when bad things happen (Gilbert et al, 1998). Subjective happiness is remarkably stable, and most events do little to change it. When bad things happen, immune mechanisms kick in, helping us to rationalize, reconstruct and minimize the impact negative events have on us. So we are able to rapidly make sense of things that happen to us, but because these processes operate outside of conscious awareness, we often don’t realize how durable we are. When asked to forecast the emotional impact future negative events will have on them, people’s estimations are significantly greater than ratings by people actually experiencing that particular event.

Part of this bias is due to focalism – the tendency to neglect other events in our lives which will influence our thoughts and emotions, as though negative events occur in vacuums. In reality, our lives are really not quite as empty as we think they are.

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.” ~ A.A. Milne

Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2003). Affective forecasting. Advances in experimental social psychology35, 345-411.