Turbulence. Please Remain Seated

Dear Seafarer,

It’s been a challenging month. Within this one month, you took the plunge. You uprooted, flung yourself across the oceans again, and tried to start over.

It hasn’t been easy. You’ve found yourself the object of unwanted affections, you’ve dealt with less than ideal housing situations, you’re going through the grief of a funeral, the dissonance of being disengaged with something that used to fill you with purpose and flow, and the demotivation that comes with it. Then there was the “Great Big Scare,” and even now, there are moments when the anxiety ticks at the back of your mind, reminding you of its presence.

The sprawling metropolis is dirty, gritty, chaotic. The streets are constantly buzzing with construction. Even the suburbs are less pleasant. There is a smell of manure in the air. You try to be positive. You watch out for the pops of colour, the blooming flowers in your neighbour’s garden. Some nights, the stars twinkle above you, bright and beautiful. Occasionally, there is a pleasant breeze. And then there’s your room. Spacious, with orange toned wood floors. You’ve tried to fill it with love and peace. The bedsheets (pleasant mints and greys), are chosen with care. A mermaid tail blanket lies on top. You’ve made a DIY marble whiteboard. Fairy lights lie on an accidental milk-crate table. Small touches.

What else does it need?

Maybe a rug. Maybe an interesting wall mural.

You won’t have that unsettling love letter violate anything further.

This is my space. I am going to reclaim it. 


You write on the board.

Visa. Banking issues. Drop by Auspost. Do your readings. 

Something gets erased, another 10 pile on.

You curl up into a ball.


He met you in the city. Tall, well-built, quite handsome.

You dismiss him as a fuckboy. Men who approach women out of the blue to tell them they’re pretty are usually up to no good. Plus, he’s probably younger than you are.

“Younger than 25? No way, I’m 29.”

Ping

“Hey, I’m X. I’m a lawyer.”

Ping

For some reason, you let him tag with you onto the bus. You talk about everything and nothing. Your arms touch. He asks for your number.

Conversation, it’s flowing.

 

Ping, ping, ping, ping. 


You’re getting texts. It’s your grandmother. She might pass on anytime soon.

You stop typing the report. In the library, your eyes well up with tears. Before you know it, your vision is blurring.

It’s so lonely here.


You forgive him a little too easily. He’s got a gentle way of speaking. He shows up in his car after you texted him, after that hellish night, after you told him you needed his support.

He actually shows up.

He feels bad, he says. It took him 50 minutes to get to you, because of the jam.

His hair is mussed up, his clothes are ill-fitting. He usually puts so much care into his appearance. He rushed over, straight out of bed.

You recognise that this is what he should be doing anyway, but you can’t help but feel a little touched.

You’re too soft.


It happened again.

You plead a little softly, but in the heat of the moment, you’re losing yourself as well.

He pushes into you. You’re not sure if he sees you tearing up. You’re crying for him, after everything you’ve learnt about him that day. He’s broken. You’re broken. You want to comfort him, but you’re deeply conflicted. You want to trust him. You want to believe it isn’t true.

You find yourself sinking into a dark ocean.


Bird-boy has gotten you chicken nuggets. A make-shift dining table, made out of crates, lies in the middle of the room. You both eat, chat. It is an easy chemistry.  It is safe here, although you’re not sure for how long. But you’re mentally and emotionally drained, and you don’t want to think about it. You will selfishly take refuge in whoever offers it. That night, the both of you fall asleep to the sound of birds.


The next morning, you book a plane home. You’re going to make it for the funeral. The texts haven’t been coming. You want to get away from it all. Perhaps this was for the best.

Motivation doesn’t matter. Feelings don’t matter. You’re going to do what you need to do anyway. You are going to grit your teeth and move on, one step at a time. You’re going to submit those assessments. You are going to look for a job. You are going to email your professors. You are going to say hello to your housemate like nothing happened. You are going to show up for classes. You are going to put your mind to the things that need taking care of.

You imagine wires, connected to your heart. One of them is beginning to fray. You wrench it out of its socket, and drop it. It stings, but you know that you’ll catch fire if you let it stay inside you.

Turbulence, it will pass.

You better get going.


-fin-

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I will remember the jacaranda trees

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.

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.

The trouble with being self-aware

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Cloudy Melbourne, 2017

Dear Seafarer,

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.

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.

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone

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Placeholder image until I draw my own. The night at Mt Cootha. I was supposed to take pictures of the Supermoon. Oh well.

Dear Seafarer,

The worst part about getting used to someone else’s warmth, is forgetting how to sleep alone. Some nights start to feel tougher than most.

But ah, it’s not all that cracked up to be, when you really think about it, right?

First, there’s the stickiness, perhaps of sweat, and the stink of other bodily fluids. Sometimes it gets a little too hot. You’re cramped up a tiny space, or you swear to God that some part of your body’s blood circulation is getting cut off. The blanket-to-person ratios are off-balance. You tangle limbs. You turn around, and your face is buried in the crook of someone’s armpit hair. The bed feels too damned small. You become an automatic audience of gassy fanfares (farts and all). Let’s not get started on the sonorous symphony of snoring, or the flattering view up someone’s nostrils.

But then, they reach over, and pull you close. You feel their heartbeat. You feel their flushed skin. The softness of their fat, or the hardness of their bones. The rise and fall of their chest. The sound of their breathing. Their warmth, right next to you. A tangible reminder that you are not alone, not tonight.

It is a sweetly comforting feeling. I’ve always wondered why strangers crawl into bed with each other. I do believe I am beginning to understand why.

We don’t want to sleep alone. Not all the time, anyway.

Touch is one of the most basic foundations of human contact. We hug, kiss, hold hands, make love. We are reminded of how we are essentially one organism, pulsing together to the beat of life. We connect when we touch; silently, powerfully.

In this wide, wide universe, with specimens as vast as the stars, we are not alone. What a miraculous, beautiful blessing that is! It is one I hope to never take for granted.

But these days, I think, I will have to get used to sleeping alone again.

Yesterday, I wrote one of the hardest message I ever had to, in my life, and sent it. I essentially told a man who loved me, that I didn’t know if I could love him back, at least to a similar intensity. I had been agonising over this conversation for a while, and it finally came to a breaking point.  I had to confront it, as difficult as it was. I felt like scum. I felt foolish, selfish, ungrateful. I cried the whole night through. But, it was done.I did what I thought was the most honest thing I could do, to honour him, and his feelings.

Despite all that, I was miserable, and I only had myself to blame.

I don’t wish to romanticise loneliness. Sure, they wax lyrical about self-empowerment and being “your own person,” before you get into relationships. They tell you to sort out your emotional baggage, or it’ll come back like a demon and haunt you relentlessly, no matter who you end up with. And yes, I largely agree with these principles.

But there are some days when I honestly just… don’t want to be alone. I had gotten a glimpse of warmth, and I craved for more. However, I couldn’t do it, at the expense of someone else.

Yesterday night, after sending the difficult text, and crying my eyes out, I texted a friend. Then, I made mushroom soup, entirely on a whim. I chopped a bowl of button mushrooms, a potato, and some onions. I simmered them with almond milk, covered the pot, and left to cry some more. The pot boiled over. I rushed back to the kitchen, and cleaned the mess on the stove. Then I added salt, herbs, and left it to simmer some more. I started crying again. My friend eventually came, close to 10. P.M. I answered the doorbell, red-eyed, with tear-stained cheeks.

We sat down on the couch, and talked.

I sobbed about how I was afraid I had made a mistake, about how I was afraid, fundamentally, that I’ll end up alone forever. What if I don’t find a man who will love me that much, ever again? What if THIS was it, and I had royally screwed myself over?

She spoke, softly, gently. Her hands were on me, her eyes were tender.

There it was. The touch, the human connection.

The conversation eventually drifted to other things, but I didn’t mind. In that moment, I was not alone.

Warmth, I had to remind myself,  takes different forms too. Sometimes in a friend. A mother. A cat. A cup of tea from a stranger. It most certainly is not exclusive to lovers. But we can forget, sometimes. Somewhere along the way, within a quarter of a century, I myself had forgotten how to sleep alone. It would be a struggle, for a while, to get comfortable again, in my own silence.

But while I sleep alone (for now), I would not be lonely.

Today, I woke up, and my hand itched to text him. Itched to tell him I was sorry. Itched to ask  if he would take me back. My emotions were taking me for a ride, and I knew I would cave in.

So I did the only thing I could do. Remind myself, that I didn’t have to stew in my own loneliness.

I spoke to someone else. I messaged my sister. I confided in a friend. Then, I studied. Surprisingly, I was pretty productive. I hadn’t been flowing in my work, not in a long while.

Around midnight, I went to see the supermoon with another friend, and her sister. I had my tumbler of home-brewed chrysanthemum tea with me. I sipped it on the viewing deck, underneath the stars. The “supermoon” was bright, but still small and blurry from where we were. My camera could not adequately capture it. I did  not bother taking photos, and just took in the atmosphere. Couples were everywhere. The place was abound with chatter. It was noisy, chaotic.

I thought about him, and if I wanted him by my side, at that very moment. I realised that while I wouldn’t mind it, I suppose, I wouldn’t mind this temporary solace, either.

My friend came bounding back to me with her camera. We got up, dusted ourselves, and went home, both agreeing that it was an underwhelming experience.

But still, it wasn’t unpleasant. I had company of my own. Within that security, I was fine being by myself, for a while. I wasn’t envious of the couples around me. I was okay, despite the weariness in my heart.

I suppose, that’s what it is. Ultimately, as long as we have loved ones to return to, we’ll be fine. That’s something we need to remember. Company and warmth does not start and end with a lover. At the same time, solace gives us the space to properly miss, and truly appreciate the people important to us.

Tonight, I sleep alone. Tomorrow, I will wake up fine, just as loved, and entirely blessed. I will miss him, of course. But life moves on. If we’re meant to be, we’ll fall into each other’s orbits again.

Let the healing begin.