Gently Breaking

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.

Sigh.

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.

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How to be Alone

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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.

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Tonight’s dinner. Picture isn’t exactly appetising.

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.

I’m okay.

I’m okay. 

90DaysofDesign: Day 3

Dear Seafarer,

Today was definitely picking up.

Learnt about the 5 basic principles of design.

  1. Alignment.
  2. Contrast.
  3. Repetition.
  4. Symmetry.
  5. Tension.

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.

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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.

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FINISHED PRODUCT

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.

Good night.

 

 

The day drips slow

Morning

I woke up to the sound of birds. The room was flooded with a gentle, morning light. Through the blinds, I could see that the ground was wet outside. It was raining lightly.

My mind still veiled with sleep, I tried my best to grasp at the threads of last night’s dream. I recalled that I was staying in a haunted house.

The air in the room felt chilly. I am reminded that autumn is here.

I turned over and rested my hand on my boyfriend’s chest. It felt warm, flat, solid. No matter how many times I’ve touched it, I continue to marvel at how men are hard and angular, while in contrast, my body is soft and pillowy, dipping in some areas and peaking in others.

I’m cold, I’m cold. Warm me up, warm me up. 

He drew me closer.

I lazily reached for my phone, and played some piano music from my Spotify playlist.

The rain fell harder.


Today’s outfit is:

Cat tights, with white overalls, and black, thin eyeliner.

It was still raining.

I waterproofed my boots with a protective spray.

Ready to go!


Afternoon

I was greeted with a plethora of colourful parasols, hanging from wires. The cultural fiesta was busy, despite the rain. There was a good energy about the place. Different stalls were displaying an array of food, each representing a country and culture. I saw bubble tea, German pretzels, baklava, tea eggs.

It was a little hard to navigate because people were holding up umbrellas and walking about. I closed my umbrella and stayed close to my boyfriend.

A boy from the Hong Kong society asked me if I wanted to try waffles. It looked soggy, from the rain. I politely declined.

We ended up getting rose apples, rice wrapped in vine leaves, African curries, rendang, curry puffs, and seri muka (a green coconut kuih).

From our tent, I could see an Afghan dance going on. It started slow, with a few people hesitantly joining in. As the music picked up in speed, more and more people joined in. There was a young man in a Turban, a tall South Pacific Islander with flowers in his hair, some Chinese girls, an Asian boy, and some other youths dressed in flowing robes.

Somewhere, a group of Pacific Islanders crowd together for a photo.

An elegantly dressed lady in a pink saree glides through the crowd of people in drab jumpers and jeans. She had silver spectacles. Her soft belly hung out, exposed.

It was a beautiful sight, like four corners of the world had connected in a lively ring of dance and merry-making. A true melting pot of cultures.

However, somehow, within me, I did not feel the desire to dance.


Back home.

He stroked my stockinged thighs. We sipped hot chrysanthemum tea.

“I’m listless,” I tell him. I wanted to drift far, far away.

We fell asleep again, and woke up in twilight.


Evening

I finished my bowl of ramen, right down to the last drop. Tonight, I ordered gyokai (fish based broth) with karaage. He ordered tomato ramen. Something new.

It was good. My stomach was full.

What about my heart?


Night

On the fogged up glass, I drew a dick. And more dicks.

I giggled at its absurdity.

The car was stopped by the side of the road. Droplets of water on the window looked like tiny golden orbs, as light from the outside headlamps dispersed through. It was a chilly, misty night. Songs from my Spotify blared through the radio. Some tunes we could sing, some we couldn’t.

I traced a smiley ghost in the condensation, and took a picture of it with his handphone.

“Here, your new lock screen.”

He kept it, obligingly.

Fin


What can I do to plug my emptiness?

Happiness concept: apartment

Dear Seafarer,

This is my happiness concept, a snippet of a vivid future I want to work towards. I think about it a lot, when I feel down. It’s a bit like mental time travel. In your happiness concept, you should be able to envision where you are, the time of the day, what you’re doing, who you’re with, the feelings you have. I feel like the more clearly you can see it, the more likely you are to achieve it. Everyone should have their own “happiness concepts.”

May all these come true in good time.


Apartment

Where am I?

It is the year 20XX, and I live within a bright and clean apartment. It is a nice place; not too big, but not too small. It has a minimalistic, contemporary design, and pleasing colour schemes. Lots of muted monochrome colours, with a mixture of smooth teakwood and marble floors.

I don’t have much of a green thumb, but somehow, I’ve always envisioned plants within my home. I’d like to believe that I can keep a tiny pot of sage, and perhaps basil, alive. I would place this somewhere in the kitchen, where they get light. A corner of the apartment (perhaps a windowsill), would be designated for terrariums. I especially  like the way succulents look; soothing pops of green within clear geometric vases.

I like the sound of “furin” (Japanese wind bells) too, so I’ve hung one by the window. When I slide open the glass to let air in, I can listen to their sparkling chimes. They greet me cheerfully, every morning.

What time is it within this apartment?

It is late-afternoon on a weekend, and the sky is dipping gently towards dusk. I’ve installed flat Korean blinds in the house, at the advice of my mother (“It’s easy to clean!”). They are the texture of rice-paper and tatami mats. I pull on them to let more light in. The apartment instantly gets flooded with warm, golden light.

My partner is coming by this evening. I decide to make some soup. With my hair tied up in a loose bun, I get to work.

First, I put chicken bones into my soup pot, fill it with water, and set it to boil. Into the simmering mixture, I add a dash of salt and pepper, a cup of shaoxing wine, and some sesame oil. Finally, I add the secret ingredients; garlic cloves, anchovies and peanuts. I’ve prepared a bowl of lotus root, which I’ll add towards the end, so they don’t overcook and lose their crunchy texture, the way my partner likes them.

The apartment begins to fill with the rich, savoury aroma of simmering chicken bone soup. I put on some music from my laptop, and decide to cook some rice. Soup and rice always go well together, I feel. Along the way, I randomly decide to drop some fishballs with the lotus root into the soup.

Should I make dumplings too?

The bell rings just as I contemplate this question.

I quickly freshen up in the mirror and answer the door.

It’s him. He smiles and holds up a packet of “tau fu fah.” 

“It’s chilled. I’ve asked them to serve it with palm sugar syrup.”

I laugh and tell him he’s read my mind.

He comes in, kisses me on the cheek, and sets the dessert on the table.

I bring out the cutlery and a set of blue rice bowls, with peach blossoms painted on them.

“Soup’s done! There’s leftover minced meat and vegetable we can have with the rice.”

He makes his way to the kitchen, and knows exactly where to find them.

We bring the pot of soup, rice, and leftovers out, and sit down for dinner. We talk about work, and our plans for the week. I’m working on an editorial spread for a mental health issue. I can’t decide between washed out greys or baby blue, for a healing colour. He tells me about a difficult case he’s working on, but right now he’s hungry and he doesn’t want to care.

In between, he comments on the soup.

“It’s good.”

I ask him about his thoughts regarding a strange dream I had, about me waking up naked in the middle of the ocean, while shoals of fish fly above me.

He asks if he’s in the dream too, because he should be if I’m naked.

I whack him with a spoon, and he laughs, before telling me that he doesn’t know much about dream analysis, but that leads into a conversation about an article he read on sleep paralysis. We debate on the existence of ghosts, then he brings up a knock knock joke. I whack him again with a spoon.

After dinner, we wash up, have dessert, and make tea. The tea of the night is “barley tea,” because it’s decaffeinated. We drink it in our special mugs. He wants his in a mug that brightens with constellations when filled with hot water. I want mine in a proper Japanese teacup.

We settle into a corner on the floor with our tea, where it’s nearest to the window. From where we are, I see distant city lights twinkling. He wraps his arms around me, and I rest against his chest, feeling it rise and fall.

We breathe, slowly, in sync, and say nothing, for a long, long time. Steam rises from our mugs. It is peaceful.

A quaint apartment, a job that pays the bills, a man I love (who loves me back), and a mug of tea.

At that moment, perhaps, I might not need much more.

This is my happiness concept.

The Alternate Universe of an Unremarkable Life

Dear Seafarer,

I am dying, and I know it.

I mean, yes, technically, everyone ends up dead at some point, but I am dying in a way far more terrifying than the biological atrophy of my body.

I am dying in my soul. A death of the mind and its passions. An intellectual decay.

I profess that I have been feeling rather demotivated lately. I’ve recently flown home for a bit after completing an intense final year in my degree. I am now a graduate. In cruder terms, I  am also “officially unemployed,” and at a complete loss as to where to go from here. Prospective offers which once seemed promising no longer feel within grasp. My visa progress seems to also have stagnated. I have no idea if the application will be accepted.

There’s something terrifying about not having a concrete plan, and realising, with rising urgency, that time is ticking. The twenties seem to surge past us by like bullet-trains. Suddenly the thirties loom just around the corner.

My life, I feel, has not yet begun.

So here I am, back at home, attempting to recalibrate my life. I find myself back in limbo, deeply uncertain of the future, and threading the line of apathy and hedonism. I wake up as the morning tips into the afternoon. I eat what I want. I catch up with my friends. I talk to my parents, and listen to my mother complain about the maid. I watch mindless Youtube videos of a bleached blonde ranting about her cheating boyfriend, and manage to be strangely invested. Occasionally I’ll indulge in a documentary, or an intelligent commentary about the veiled meaning behind so-and-so movie, but that only slightly  alleviates the guilt that I am wasting my life, potential, and opportunities away.

It is effortful to plan and get productive. Somewhere within the recesses of my mind, I recognise that I am being foolish and irrational, but I simply cannot bring myself to do anything. My brain is trying its best, sparking off with lists and creative fun activities and miscellaneous things that will probably make tomorrow a better day, if I committed to doing them. But somehow, I don’t get to doing anything substantial. One by one, I feel my ideas die within me.

It’s a disconcerting feeling. Each idea feels like an electric impulse, travelling down a neuron, only to meet a dead end, because it isn’t paired with immediate action. The idea fizzles out at the synaptic terminals, and I go back to my mindless Youtube surfing, with guilt and self-admonishing mounting within me. My mind palace is  gradually beginning to go gray, and crumble.

This has prompted me to start thinking about the lack of momentum I’ve been experiencing in my life, and how this could pan out, a few years down the road. Here is one plausible scenario:

In an alternate, bleak future, I’ve forgotten how to feel passionate about anything. I haven’t drawn in a while, and I no longer get creative visions. Art no longer excites me, and I can’t be bothered to try either. I’ve missed out on amazing opportunities, because I haven’t been able to stick to something long enough to see it through. I’m still dependent on my unfortunate parents, who are worried sick for me, because I haven’t been able to find a job. My peers and siblings have moved on, and are flourishing in their careers. I’m poor, afraid, lacking in imagination, and terribly lost. I don’t have much job experience, or skills that I can offer. This affects my self-esteem, and I end up developing social anxiety, making it difficult for me to make friends or sustain a relationship. In attempt to cope, I delude myself into making grand plans, none of which I’ve actually taken action to accomplish, out of said anxiety. I stay within my comfortable bubble of “anticipation,” without actually moving an inch.

Also, I probably still use cheap dollar-store make-up (gasp).

Back to the present.

I’m here, today, writing this blog post, in attempt to dissect the anatomy of this rut. I have 48 drafts of things I’ve started but never finished, but somehow, I feel like I need to push through for this entry. If I do not force myself to break the spell, I feel like my life will somehow go on, underwhelmingly, comfortably. It is one of the most dangerous things that can possibly happen, to someone of my placcid personality.

I am thinking about my unremarkable future, and I wonder, from where I stand now, if I could still change it all. Crossroads terrify me because they unfold the story in very different ways, should one road be taken over the other. I have this feeling that there’s no turning back.

I do not like to seal my own fate. It is far too much responsibility. If I screw up, it’s on me.

However, in the words of Thomas Carlyle,

Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand. 

I’ve been there before, rooted to the spot, afraid to act out of fear. Suddenly, my life passed me by, and I was struggling to keep up. Will I make the same mistake? Is that a future I can accept?

I shudder to think of it. I must not allow it. I must do something, anything.

Tomorrow, I’m driving myself to the salon, to cut my hair. I will make my bed, and declutter my room. It is a small thing, but it is a start. Perhaps then I will write my goals down in a little notepad, and think deeply about how to go about achieving them, over roasted green tea.

Come to think of it, I’ll need to make a dental appointment,  call the immigration centre, update my resume, and work on that drawing….

I must move, somehow. This amniotic sac of time will only last me for a bit, before life ruptures upon me, and grants me rebirth.

The search goes on.

The Microwave Mocks Me

Dear Seafarer,

I am having the worst time of my life at the instance of writing this. I am a hair’s width away from snapping, and the seismic impact is going to feel like all the tectonic plates of my inner universe are sliding and shifting over themselves, crumbling and crackling into a wasteland.

Wasteland. 

It feels like I am almost barren of hope.

I am, currently, an inch away from my thesis deadline, and I am staring a mountain of things I need to correct. Almost a third of the digital document is pockmarked in red annotations. I begin to wonder if I had written anything salvageable at all, and in my mind, I am mentally calculating the outcomes of my future, and its dwindling alternatives, should I fail to remove myself from this downward trajectory.

Breathe and calm down, I tell myself, but that does nothing to quell the rising panic that is simmering at the pits of my stomach.

To top it all off, I am feeling immensely light headed.

How on earth did I get here with all these gaps in my knowledge?, I ask myself, and I feel almost instantly worthless, like an impostor, like someone completely out of place. I feel like I’ve spent 3 years in university on autopilot, and I have learnt absolutely nothing. I’ve been staring at the screen for the past 2 hours. The most I’ve done, was correct my references. I have yet to attack the meat of the thesis, and something in my mind is not clicking. Ideas are not synchronized, random concepts are floating all over the place, the flow is disjointed, and I am feeling incredibly confused by the growing minute.

I decide that I should eat something. Maybe the fresh air would help.

I get up and cross the campus, to walk towards the food refectory, thinking of butter chicken.

The lady behind the counter looks surly. She scoops the butter chicken into a small container and hands it over to me, in silence. I say thank you, pay her the money, and walk back.

In that span of 10 minutes, I pendulum between thoughts of wanting to kill myself, asking for forgiveness from God and my parents, encouraging myself to keep going, and breaking down into a ball and disappearing into a manhole. I wish I could erase myself, like a glitch in the Matrix, and none of this would ever have to happen.

I feel hot tears well at my eyes.

I finally arrive back at the library. I put my things down and head to the student microwave. I stick my packed vegetables in, and press the “start” button. The lime digits beep, but nothing happens. I try again. It beeps. Nothing happens.

Screw this, I tell myself. The curry might still be warm enough to enjoy, so that might balance out the coldness of the vegetables.

I sit down, open the lid of my food container, and start to eat.

An Australian girl comes in, and tries. For a couple minutes, she has no luck. I feel relieved that it wasn’t just me. There was no real reason to feel relieved from something insignificant like that, but I suppose, in that moment, I didn’t want to feel like I was exceptionally out of luck, in comparison to everyone else.

I tell her that I couldn’t get it to work either.

She smiles, and walks back to her partner. I continue to eat, and try to ignore the stress that is killing my appetite.

After a while, I hear her walk back to the microwave. Perhaps she’s trying her luck again. Beep, beep, beep, the microwave goes. And it starts.

Following that, a Chinese couple walk in. They try it too, and the microwave goes on without a hitch.

It is a stupid microwave. It is a stupid, irrelevant incident that warranted no further thought.

But at that moment, I couldn’t help but think;

Even the microwave mocks me.

For a while, I contemplate the absurdity of the situation, and I almost manage to snap myself out of my negative reverie.

There are billions of people in the world right now, and everyone is stressing over something and something. Maybe someone’s lost their homes. Maybe someone’s just found out they got cancer. Maybe they’ve got bills to pay and they’re hanging by the next paycheck. Maybe someone’s lover left.

I am sitting in a student kitchenette, feeling upset over a microwave.

Thoughts of my thesis came back to me.

I need to keep going. I need to keep going.

I have finished my dinner, and am back at my computer now. After writing this, I will try my best to focus, as heavy as my heart feels.

Wish me luck.

I’ll need it.