I must remind myself, that it is easy to think about good thoughts, to be tolerant, brave, and peaceful, when I am not challenged.
The storms are beginning to shift. Be brave, I tell myself. Be brave.
I must remind myself, that it is easy to think about good thoughts, to be tolerant, brave, and peaceful, when I am not challenged.
The storms are beginning to shift. Be brave, I tell myself. Be brave.
How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne
In Psychology, we learn of a term, “blooming, buzzing confusion,” which describes that of a newborn baby’s first experiences with the world. The rhythmic ebb and flow of voices, the explosion of colours, the texture of a flower petal, the taste of milk — each of the senses tingling distinctly, then coalesced into one. The world must seem so beautiful and yet so terrifying, as it unfolds upon itself in rapid speed.
Five years ago, I set foot into Brisbane. I felt like a newborn baby then. My hair was cropped short. I had one suitcase full of clothes, my laptop bag, and a boatload of mixed emotions and confusion. I had been yanked out into the blinding world. My life which had previously been on pause, was suddenly hurtling on in “fast forward” speed.
If I could replay my life in montages, perhaps this would be a fitting time. I remember each fragment of my memory with the precise emotion it evoked, along with the sounds, the smells, the sights.
I remember my first venture into Brisbane city, where I shared a meal with a newfound friend. It was mediocre Korean food, but it felt like the most delicious thing to me. They served Kimchi and mayo salad in little metal bowls, which I was excited to learn that I could refill. Also, I made a friend! My heart was as full as my stomach.
I remember the initial anxiety of sitting in the bus, and constantly fearing that it would stop me in a strange and unfamiliar place. Once I took the wrong bus, and it drove along a beautiful jacaranda path, before ending up where I intended to go anyway. Distracted by the flurry of purple flowers in full bloom, I briefly forgot about my anxiety. That day, I learnt that sometimes, it was alright to be lost.
I remember the sandstone walls of my university, and how they spanned along the hallways of the Great Court. Over the course of the years, I would walk along these hallways as a different person, each time. Something was always quietly, furiously shifting, within me.
I remember taking refuge from the pouring rain in Hartley Teakle, a slightly dilapidated building, but not without charm. Tutorials had been cancelled, and I was the only student there. I pulled out a chair, and sat in silence, surrounded by nothing but research posters and Biology charts. I plugged in my headphones, and disappeared into my own world. I even remember the song. Outside, it continued to rain.
I remember the peace I felt, when I sat in my first Psychology lecture. It had been a lonely, disorientating week of fumbling through sign-on systems, clashing timetables, and mixed up tutorials. I sank into the ambience of the lecture —the murmuring of students, the flipping of notes. The lecturer was teaching us about different parts of the brain, something about the frontal lobes. I looked around and thought, I’m a university student! I’m finally a university student!
I could go on and on about the memories I had, at risk of sounding like a John Green novel. I have far too many to choose from.
Enjoying hotpot with housemates, and laughing until my sides split from their antics. Getting drunk under the stars, to the symphony of an open orchestra. Making up songs with a friend, deep into the night. Conversations with Mr President, who made me feel like it was alright to ponder deeply about the universe. Meeting a strange medical student, who insulted my hands, but also stole my first kiss. Puking my guts out from alcohol poisoning, because I was foolish enough to drink over a broken heart. Running home with the biggest smile breaking across my face, because I had successfully presented a speech. Pulling off an art exhibition, where I had people openly appreciate my art for the first time. Driving to a prison facility with friends, to observe kangaroos. Crying alone in the computer lab and absolutely hating myself, over my honours thesis. Starting a design course, and feeling flow for the first time in a long time. Finishing it, and growing weary and lost again.
Happiness, friendship, warmth, love, magic.
Disappointment, loneliness, depression, despair.
Brisbane has given me the opportunity to experience an incredible spectrum of emotions, each one felt deeply and profoundly.
During my last week in Brisbane, I started to write farewell letters. The amount surprised me. I had written more letters than I had realised. I met up with the people I could meet, tied up loose ends, and enjoyed each “final” conversation. As the day dipped into night, I always felt a little sadder. It was as if I realised that something beautiful was about to end. If anything, I suppose it was testament that I was leaving behind something precious. And perhaps that alone, is something to celebrate.
I left Brisbane with two suitcases, my hair, grown past my shoulders, and plenty of bittersweet memories. I wept silently and thankfully, in the plane.
To my beloved Brisbane, I will remember your jacaranda trees.
Recently, I was practicing how to break a heart.
I practiced in front of mirrors. I thought about what to say as I brewed my tea. I tried to imagine the best possible scenario to talk it out. I rehearsed the dreadful speech again and again, rearranging the words in my head, in futile attempt to lessen the pain. When we were together, I would have sudden moments of silence and sighs, as if trying to expel the crushing weight of guilt and sadness, along with my breath. My boyfriend would ask if I’m okay, and I could only say “yes,” unsure of how I could verbally quantify the mounting emotional conflict I was feeling, or why I was feeling it.
Three days ago, I sat down and told my boyfriend,
“We should take time-off.”
We were on a bench, in a park. It was a sunny day. Children were playing, carefree. A happy group of Down Syndrome people waved to us.
Despite all that, inside me, a storm was churning.
This was it.
Even with all the rehearsing, the speech was clumsy, clunky, awkward. I spewed off all the reasons why I wasn’t in a mentally good place. Emotional baggage. Biases. Chemistry issues. Communication issues. Fear of holding him back. Fear of unintentionally using him. Hurting him. Hurting me. Being unfair to him. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.
He remained calm, resigned, understanding. He’s heard it all before.
His gentleness and compassion for me broke me even more. My heart cracked with every word I said.
Even then, I still wasn’t brave enough to suggest that we completely “break up.” I said it, faltered, retracted it, decided that maybe we need time-off. A proper time-off. A “trial breakup.”
What was I trying to achieve? Was I delaying the inevitable, like a coward? Was I giving it time in hope that things would work out? Did I hope it would be “gentler” than an actual break up?
A gentle heartbreak is a paradox. No matter how much you sugarcoat it, even when dripping in sickeningly sweet words— there’s nothing quite as gut-wrenching as knowing that you’re pretty much doing the equivalent of taking an invisible knife and stabbing someone in the heart.
That same night, I cried and cried and cried. I buried my face in his shirt, my face soaked wet with tears. I didn’t want to let go, but I knew I needed to. We hugged for a “final time,” and he was off.
Right now, it’s Day 3, since the “break up.”
I’m still hurting.
Emotionally detaching from a bond is painful. You’ve dug your roots into each other. You’ve become comfortable. We’ve cleaned each other’s ears. I’ve stuck my fingers up his nose. We’ve laughed at stupid Internet videos together. His hands know exactly where to nestle, along the curve of my body. I’ve fallen asleep to his heart beat. He’s seen me in my worst, my most selfish. I’ve seen him cry, sulk, flare up in anger.
There was a growing vulnerability and intimacy that we shared, even if it was synthetic, even if it took time.
I do miss him, terribly so. I miss waking up to text messages. I miss being held. The gaps between my fingers seem hollow. I fight the urge to text him and take it all back.
I know it’s not going to be easy. But at least, maybe my conscience will rest a little easier, this way. My stupid heart won’t have it any other way.
I wish relationships didn’t have to be this complex, but maybe it’s only as complex as it needs to be. Maybe this is the right thing to do, for now. Maybe in five, ten years —we will look back and realise that this was one of the best decisions we ever made. Maybe I need to remind myself, why, after all this time, after trying so hard, something in me still felt compelled to do this. It’s no one’s fault.
And then, on the other side of rationalising, there is sadness, and a lonely, blue silence, screaming to be filled.
I hope you’re okay. I think of you, I miss you a lot, and I’m sorry. May time bring us clarity, peace and healing.
Step 1. Come home to an empty house.
Step 2. Plop on the couch and try to beat your friends at an online video game. Spend approximately one hour on the phone (I’m playing Endless Lake, with beautiful visuals and an ambient soundtrack).
Step 3. Cook. Methodically, slowly, patiently. I marinaded some mince and soaked some rice. Planning to cook century egg congee tomorrow. For dinner, I decided to make grilled mackerel, with miso soup, and sautéed bean sprouts. I basted the mackerel with sweet unagi sauce and roasted sesame sauce, for a finishing touch.
Step 4. Tuck into a hot meal. The fish was amazing. I had dinner to a Youtube channel called “The Art Assignment.” The video was arguing for a “Case of Copying” in art. It posits that copying itself could be a form of art. That revered artists aren’t exactly doing anything original — they copy and are copied themselves. However, they have the advantage of social approval, which allows the copying to be seen as novelty. It was an interesting point.
Step 5. Take a hot bath. My mirror was steamed up.
Step 6. Make a cup of hot tea. Tonight I’m making “Riotous Rose” by T2. It’s filled my room with the smell of rose petals.
Step 7. Play a sad tune on the piano, and try to imagine that you’ve overlayed auditory sound effects on it. If I were to ever make my own musical track, it would be full of quiet piano and ambient, dreamy vocals— the sort of sound you hear when you combine a microphone, and reverbs.
Step 8. Put on the sweater you like.
Step 9. Let it sink in.
Try to remember that one of the most important things you will ever learn to do in life, is how to be alone. Who am I when there’s nobody around me? What am I when I’m stripped bare, and I have nothing? Will I ache for the warmth and company of another, or can I feel satisfaction and peace, and fulfilment, within my own presence?
It’s been a while since I’ve been alone, and it’s a bit like learning to breathe again. At first, the instinct is to run back to warmth. Anyone will do. You sit in uncomfortable silence, then you sit with it. You allow yourself to panic, then you find yourself calming down. You’re alone, you’re still okay. You trust that this is temporary, and there are many forms of company, just as there are many forms of loneliness. Sometimes loneliness hits right in the face of company. Sometimes silence is company itself.
Tonight I had a good dinner, by myself. I cooked and cleaned in meditative silence. I watched an educational Youtube video. I reached out to other people I care about. I made myself a mug of hot tea. Now I’m all rugged up in a nice sweater, listening to Breathing Underwater, in a series of acoustic musical sessions called Mahogany Sessions.
I’ve missed myself. It’s been a while.
Today was definitely picking up.
Learnt about the 5 basic principles of design.
We had to play with basic shapes to recreate each design principle. I found myself already intuitively drawn to works with these elements, but could never quite put my finger on why I found them attractive. Now I know.
We also learnt how to draw thumbnails, where again; it’s not about being precise or making amazing drawings, but being able to sketch out what a layout or idea could look like. Strangely enough, my end products always end up looking NOTHING like my thumbnails. I guess mine are always a place to start with, rather than a reference to follow.
We also got to work on our first official brief for Olympus PEN, where I designed my first ad in Indesign! Made 10 thumbnails, designed 8 mockups, none of which looked like my thumbnails haha.
During lunch, I listened to an interesting conversation with the German girl, who I learnt, today, was vegetarian. A mild debate ensued between her and another girl, who felt like documentaries that promote vegetarianism tend to be biased.
I am inclined to agree, that we only ever see one side of the story. To this day, I’m not sure which is the lesser evil; farming animals or farming crops.
The beautiful New York girl spoke to me today. She seems nice.
Despite all that, I still feel a bit lonely in class, but being engrossed in work helps.
Honestly, thinking about it, I’m really focused in class. This is the first time in a long while that I’m just working, working, working. My mind feels like it’s clicking, whirring, moving again. I feel like my gears are shifting fast, I’m paying attention, and I’m reproducing output rapidly.
Is this what it feels like to flow?
On a hilarious note, I ended up waking late today. My alarm didn’t sound, somehow. I got to school in time, but it was the most rushed morning of my life. NEVER AGAIN. I also didn’t have time for tea.
I hope tomorrow will be another good, productive day.
After hemming, hawing, fearing, stagnating––I’ve finally popped, and gone ahead and done something.
I started a design course, which claims to condense 4 years of worth of a design degree into 3 months.
I do intend to keep documenting my progress throughout the weeks, but due to the intense nature of the course, I find myself coming home absolutely drained and pooped.
AND I NEED TO MAKE DINNER (and lunch for the next day).
I’ll probably be typing in very quick, lazy bullet points (who reads this blog anyway haha).
Pretty relaxed. Had a scavenger hunt and a tower-building exercise to facilitate bonding. I kept myself neutral throughout, but amiable enough to get along with everyone else. There was a mixture of mature professionals and some fairly younger people. For the first time in my life, I genuinely feel like one of the younger ones. Not really getting any major “let’s be friends” vibes from anyone, but I intend to keep my head down and let it happen naturally.
Some people I’ve noted.
I would describe more people but I’m too tired.
We did some UX design, where we learn to “empathically” interview. I found it difficult to not ask leading questions, but was pretty happy with the information I managed to glean from the woman I interviewed.
I was solving the problem of a woman who lost her remote, and found it difficult to find a suitable replacement. Also she mentioned that her remote had too many buttons she didn’t use.
I came up with a redesigned prototype of a remote, in the shape of a cube. Here are the properties:
I was asked to present my prototype to class (impromptu style) and I probably forgot to mention half one what I just typed above, because I felt nervous. Somehow it feels a little hard for me to speak, lately.
The last activity of the class was to make a poster, using only one colour. This exercise challenged us to really extract the fundamentals of an image, to deliver its main essence. We were given random movies to base the poster off. I thought most people came up with very clever designs, but I don’t really think people got my movie (Despicable Me). 😦
Wow I’m tired. Basically today was a day of diving into InDesign. One of the tutors encouraged us to use shortcuts with one hand, so we would eventually develop a “claw-like” hand that could engage all necessary commands with only one hand, while the other controlled the mouse. Thug lyfe.
We also recreated a lot of ads, where we did a “thumbnail drawing” exercise. I had to learn to extract “reference points,” to map out a picture and the things in it. It wasn’t about drawing well, but drawing what I could relate to, in order to properly picture a poster. Before this, I did all my design work by literally experimenting on the program itself, sort of winging it as I go. It trains innovation, but it isn’t the most economical or organised way to go about things. I should try being more structured in my life in general…
Have some pictures.
I came home exhausted, but somehow cooked A TON tonight.
I’m pretty stoked about my lunch tomorrow. Japanese potato salad, grilled salmon and chicken pieces, peas, and baked carrots, on a bed of white Jasmine rice.
Genuinely exhausted now. My hair is dry, so it’s time to sleep. It will be another early start tomorrow. I want to wake up early enough so I don’t rush my morning tea.
I believe that some of the hardest people to help in the world, are the ones who are the most self-aware. Self-aware people, as the name suggests, have great insight into themselves — lot more than we might ever notice, as outsiders.
They’re the ones who have taken a problem they’ve identified within themselves, and analysed it through and through, multiple times inside their heads. That perspective you so cleverly thought you’re giving them for the first time— they’ve thought of it ages ago. They know everything that’s broken within them, and they probably know how to fix it.
When talking to people, I reflect consciously on their levels of self-awareness. I recognise that there is something presumptuous about parroting a problem or issue that might seem obvious to them. There is nothing much I can say, that might be helpful at all. It’s like telling a blind man that he can’t see. Perhaps this is why I put in effort into offering the most genuine, and novel insight I can think of, whenever someone confides in me. Bland, generic advice or feedback doesn’t do much at best, and demotivates at worst.
Perhaps deep down, I too, wish that when I’m troubled, that someone would say something that I’ve yet to realise. I feel like some of the most powerful moments in life are when I’m shown that there could be a different perspective to things. I want to feel alive, I want to experience paradigm shifts! I want someone to say something that will move me. Perhaps it will be akin to getting a sign from the Heavens. I’ve always been drawn to eloquent, deeply reflective people for this very reason. When they speak, more often than not, I am learning something new.
However, the truth is, very rarely can someone say something perfect, in the immediate moment. So much can happen, merely within an iota of vulnerability. I am often at a loss for words. It is both a humbling and confusing moment, to watch someone else in pain.
Words do not solve problems. I have to remind myself, that for a self-aware person, this might not be the first time they’ve grieved over a vexing problem. They’ve probably tried every solution in their book, and nothing seems to have worked out.
It is a painful situation for anyone to be in.
And so, sometimes, the best thing I can do, is to hold my tongue, and wait with them, within the discomfort of their emotions. There is a time and place for silence, just as there is a time and place for offering solutions.
Truly hearing someone out is a difficult art. I have yet to master it myself.
All said and done, I’ve always believed that transformation requires two main steps. The first step is awareness of the problem. The second step is internalisation, and is what I believe to be the game-changer.
Knowing something, and internalising it, are two different processes. If knowing something was enough to change our behaviours, many of us would have stopped procrastinating, a long time ago. I myself am terrible at internalisation, which is why most of my problems start, and stagnate at self-awareness. Internalisation is also the reason why I recognise that some people need to come to terms with things within their own pace, even if it seems obvious to me.
Ultimately, everyone helps themselves, just as I need to help myself. All this self-awareness is for naught, otherwise. I have a boatload of problems and perhaps, within me, I’ve already come across the solutions.
I’m working on internalising that.
To those who already know their demons, I sincerely wish that you’ll find the courage, wisdom, and discipline, to let your self-enlightenment guide your path.