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Of memories and remembering

I’ve associated you with so many memories of tears and anger that it’s been almost forever since I’ve thought of any good memories with you. It’s shameful, I guess, that for all you’ve done for me in my 21 years of existence should be distilled into few bad memories, so tonight I will try to associate every bad memory of you with really good ones.

  1. That Halloween when we were going out, and I insisted that we leave bags of treats out for kids who were trick-and-treating in the neighborhood. How precocious I was then, ordering you about as a 7-year-old. But you understood, you smiled at me and packed little bags of snacks with a note inviting kids to take them. Most were left behind, probably by kids who either didn’t see or didn’t care to take, but in that moment you chose to be kind and indulge me. I can only hope to be this gracious as a mother.
  2. In the moments you cried and held me after caning me because you let your anger carry you away (it’s okay mummy you were always impulsive in your anger), and you apologized and held me like I would disappear into thin air.
  3. Every time I spoke about a dish during the week – mummy, I really love dumplings, mummy remember that time when you made that omelet?- and the dish would mysteriously appear during dinner on the weekends, where you spent an entire afternoon slaving away in the hot, stuffy kitchen.
  4. The generous, genial smile when you gave us permission to order more food when we were out. (Almost always coupled with the phrase “mummy likes it when you all are happy”)
  5. That time in JC when I told you about my friend, envy thinly (and unconsciously) garbed as admiration. But you saw through my supposed adoration and told me that I was enough, that I didn’t have to feel about myself this way. I was lucky the room was dark because at that moment my eyes had filled with many, many tears and I had to slip out of the room, suppressing a sob.

Many, many happy memories with you. I love you mummy, happy belated birthday.

Of finding and being found

We’re at King’s Cross Station, counting down to the minutes of our friends’ departure. We push our luggage towards the platform, weaving in and out of people milling and spilling out of trains. The clock is ticking and we share a certain, frantic anxiety, both for our dear friends and for our own trip ahead.

We’ve had a good few days in London, I tell myself. We’ll see them again, it’ll be fine.

Some of us had gone ahead and we exchange hugs before they disappear off into the gates, hands waving goodbye.

And amongst the heady, stifling, never-stopping crowd, you spot me – our eyes meet and you make a beeline- and walk right up to me, eyes twinkling and with a lovely, goofy, sunshine smile.

(And I will never admit this but in that moment, in your blue-checkered oxford shirt and gold-rimmed glasses, you are quite certainly the most handsomest boy in the world.)

You reach down to hug me – your lanky body folding almost into two – and tell me to call them, if we need anything.

And in that moment, as you pull away, you take my longing with you. (I spend the next 30 minutes on the train afterwards blinking back desperate tears).

Back home, where our eyes seldom meet anymore across the room full of people, this is what I hold on to- the giddying thump in my chest when you found me, across the station full of people.

Of life and living (alternatively, There Is No Shame In Being A Student Of The Arts)

  • I don’t know if any fellow art majors feel the same way but I always sense a tinge if shame creeping in when I tell anybody that I am a literature undergrad. I won’t go into the whole “Singapore is not for the arts” debate because a simple scroll through reddit will tell you more than you know (or perhaps, even care.) With me not being an exceptional student, The Shame hits me stronger. The arts should not be judged in the same utilitarian way everything else is seemed to be in Singapore, but somehow I’ve internalised The Shaming arts majors get from their fellow undergrads/parents/everybody’s next-door-neighbour. With the bout of reduced self-esteem I’ve gone through last academia semester (with me emerging with scars I write off as “accidentally scratching myself”), I want to properly come to terms with it because stories and narratives was a big part (still is) of my childhood, and well, me. What matters is that I make the best of my degree and learn, undo whatever that’s been ingrained in me from the education system (that grades are some how inexplicably an extra limb on your body and to let it rot is fatal) and learn to be a student again. This is me, I’m here, and I will embrace all my fear for this upcoming semester and my future- uncertain as it may be, this is my life, and life is for the living.

(Also I hope I get better grades. Come on fear, fight me. Take me on.)

Of adventures and fear

I’ve been officially rejected from going on an exchange programme. I still was holding out a little bit of hope that somehow they’ll find me a uni available for me but I guess they didn’t. It does suck because I will have to tell my parents they I didn’t get it (because my CAP wasn’t good enough) and hat my friend is going (but I’m not.) It makes me feel a little more like a failure when I’ve been moving away from constantly beating myself up. I still can’t help but feel a little fear that what if really even in this semester I don’t manage to get better grades. As I go along I hope I embrace this fear because life after all is not this cramped existence I imagine it to be inside my head, I am part of a bigger world, a bigger existence and an adventure, I suppose. It’s time.

Of love and logic

I have never been in love.

I don’t think this has especially bothered me before- and I refuse to be bothered by it- but I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

In a true nerd fashion, I googled and read (almost) all of the articles and forum answers Google offered up to me.

I guess the reason why I puzzle over it so much is that I can’t pin down exactly what love is to me- it has to be more than a feeling, more than a promise- but I still don’t understand. I suppose love has a huge part where it’s a risk getting hurt (cliched, I know, but true) and a risk opening your life and your arms to a person who could easily turn into a stranger when just yesterday he was kissing your lips. But.

I don’t think, with me right now, (or never, really, I’m not much of a risk-taker ever) I can ever foresee myself opening my arms and heart to another. The thought of me gets my heart pumping in an unnerving way, makes my knees weak because what if, what if this was just one chance, one shot I had at being given understanding and compassion?

I’m sure all of us have had that lingering loneliness, the secret fear that this sense of not quite feeling right in your own body or mind will persist forever, that this feeling has been ingrained into our bones and our neurons and will fester there forever and ever. I suppose, to be the easy thing to do is to put this feeling down, place this aside on a shelf and choose love. But if I don’t have this loneliness, who am I? Who am I if I am not a misfit (as I have been), my whole life?

Sara Teasdale wrote a poem, titled “I am not yours”- and the first stanza goes like this ;

I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

I do, too, wish to be swept up and head-over-heels in love; but I think, I need to stop wielding my supposed need for “independence” and confusing it with fear of being vulnerable. It’s a process, I suppose and I am always happy to work on myself.

I hope 2018 brings a year of learning and a great deal of growing up, emotionally.

 

Of days and months

Lately, I have been rather conscious of my tendency to envy. I think in this age of social media and (almost?) excessive sharing of our lives, envy is a universal feeling and we all feel it to a certain extent. But I see my family and my relatives, and see how envy is given such a central position in their lives and I do not want to live like that. I just want to be content and, in the words of Mary Oliver, float a little above this difficult world.

I’m on my way, I suppose.

Of smoke and water

It’s been a day since the death of Jonghyun, by suicide.

I have not been a huge fan of him nor his idol group but the circumstances of his suicide have really shaken me to my core.

I think, the thing that had shocked me was thinking how easily that could have been me.

Past this semester I have had a very hard time both in school and at home, and all my thoughts and opinions towards suicide and depression, till to that point- a rather detached, passing remarks of  I won’t be that girl– had been thrown out of the window.

It has gotten better, definitely, and I have been able to slowly talk to my friends about how the worthlessness I have carried around me for my whole life was actually eating me out from the inside, but he didn’t.

If I didn’t have my sister, didn’t have a friend to turn to, an outlet for me to vent and reflect upon, have the privacy to grief and throw a pity-party for myself- it could have been me.  Because. Because I did think that all it took was just one leap, off the ledge behind the washing machine. And when I didn’t, I berated myself for being just too chicken to do it, that I couldn’t even get this one thing right.

Jonghyun, you will be missed; your talent and your music and the overwhelming love you carried inside of you, the love that was just too much that when it burst out of you, and when you had no more to give you retreated to your corner of the world and didn’t come back- but you will be missed.

Rest in peace, Jonghyun. May you be at peace with yourself, the world- may you feel overwhelming love forever and ever.

 

Of trial and error

Times when I wasn’t good enough:

  1. When I was 8 and you said my hair wasn’t neat enough, that I had stubbornly refused to comb my hair even though you’ve said it a million times, and you dragged me to the salon where I got my hair lopped off into a bob; I hated it and you told me I was ugly.
  2. When I was 9 and I broke my sunglasses; you caned me and made me sleep with our helper. I lay in bed beside her and wished I was her child instead of yours.
  3. When I was 10 and I had forgotten my black shoes for performance with the band at the other house, when we were in the midst of moving; and you angrily refused to drive me back to our old house to get them; my bandmates looked at my white shoes and yelled that I was bad luck.
  4. When I was 12 and I had scored miserably for PSLE and you told me that I was lazy, I was obstinate, and that see lah, now you have to go to a neighbourhoood school.
  5. When I was 13 and with bad grades and you said there was something seriously wrong with me, and that I was a pig because I only eat and eat and eat. 
  6. When I was 14 and plunging right into puberty, you took a look at my changing body and told me I was fat.
  7. When I was 17 and the boy I liked didn’t like me back.
  8. When I was 17 and I couldn’t understand why my grades were dismal even after trying, trying and trying.
  9. When I was 19 and we fought and you said I was stupid, that I was a bad influence, that I thought myself clever but I was wrong. 
  10. When I was 20 and with my grades and self-esteem suffering, you told me to tidy up your room or get out of the house. 

Of blood and water

Today I had a little tiff with my brother.

Over nothing major, really, it was basically an argument about how much chores we each did and accusing each other of not doing enough.

In particular, he insisted my sister (the quintessential middle child) barely did any chores because she was busy with school. And that I didn’t care, nobody did, about him and that the chores were precisely the reason he couldn’t study.

Angry words were exchanged, voices got sharper with each passing minute, and at the end of it he was crying silently (his back stubbornly facing me) and I was trying my darndest not to cry. And in the end the core of the matter wasn’t even about the chores at all, it was about how he felt taken for granted (and me writing it off as ridiculous).

Blood is thicker than water.

Everybody says it like the gospel truth whenever family issues crop up, yet it still is humbling when a jolt of realization shoots through me, just how much we take our families for granted, how much I take my family for granted.

It’s easy to assume just because we’ve lived around the same people for our whole, if not most of our lives, that because we share blood and little habits we pick up from one another and the same way our nose scrunches when we laugh that we think, we assume that we know them, and they know us, and this very knowledge we assume we have entitles us to say,  yes, blood truly is thicker than water.

What we fail to see is that the very nature of the intimate relationship we have with family, that they are the blood that courses through us is how the thickness chokes us, derails us from saying truly what we feel.

The very blood we share congeals our words and coagulates the emotions we throw at each other when hurt; we put up our pride as shields and effectively curdle our relationships. The very thickness of the familial bond, the blood that ties us together makes the hurt we cause upon one another all the more upsetting, all the more traitorous because how could you, you are my family.

Blood is thicker than water, yes, but precisely it is because we are blood, living breathing blood and not water- that we have to nourish it, to be aware of the poisonous feelings we imbue in it through our treatment of one another.

And at the end of the day, I was aware, I could hear the hurt in my brother’s voice as he says, “nobody cares about me” and the unspoken I’m all alone because this all-too-familiar loneliness is in me too. But because I was angry, because I need to be right I threw a “fine, be the victim” as a parting shot and retreated to my room.

It’s hard to be honest when I’ve spent all my life being the kind of elder sister per expectations and that I’m not all that close with my brother. Which, I know is not an excuse by any measure, but still.

Maybe I’ll fry him up some eggs tomorrow. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll be a little kinder.

I’ll try again.

Of words and words

Talking to my mum about how hard this semester was, got me thinking why I chose literature as my major. Why literature?

Honestly, my relationship with literature (in the academic sense) has not been smooth-sailing at all, from nearly failing almost constantly in J1, to doing decently well in J2.

And again, coming to University and realizing that there are so many people ahead of me in the race to good grades.

But yet, I chose literature.

I wish I could confidently say what matters is my choice, my passion, but I still question myself, I’m still very much unsure and…afraid, I guess.

Halfway through this semester I realized, that reading, which gave me so much joy in my formative years (like seriously, I read everywhere and anywhere- in class, while eating, in the shower), was now less than joyful when I was so pressed for time, so pressed for original insights for my essays.

Maybe it’s because I’m so caught in my own head, thinking of my grades, or just the fact that doing well in literature has come to factor very much in how I see myself.

Yet.

Literature to me is a discipline that reifies and magnifies the feelings and experiences of an individual- all the joys and all the sadness- to a common experience of all mankind. Literature deals with the details, the little nooks and crannies-reading a really good passage gets my heart tingling, and I really do love literature.

It’s a process, and maybe I’ll start with learning (again) to enjoy books and reading again.

(and get a head start on my books…not a good idea to cram 4 books within 13 weeks)

English literature is a flying fish.  It is a sample of the life that goes on day after day beneath the surface; it is a proof that beauty and emotion exist in the salt, inhospitable sea.’

-E.M. Forster