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.

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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.

Lessons #2

If there is a splinter that’s bothering me, and it’s big enough to remove, tweeze it off. The pain is barely less than a second, but the relief is a lifetime.

 

Lessons #1

Going to Indooroopilly

Exit Indooroopilly Shopping Mall using Station Rd or Musgrave Rd.

The U-turn is slightly on the right.

Going to Suj’s house

You can stay on the middle lane to get to M3

Cooking breaded tofu

Use firm tofu. And mayo. More egg. Keep the tofu dry.

 

Making matcha cheesecake

Cut the cream cheese into smaller bits. Let it melt for a smooth finish.

 

A Person Who is Trying

Dear Seafarer,

 

Waking up is not difficult. Going to bed is not difficult. I am alive and well.

I am comfortable. Living in a bubble. Food passes my belly daily. A house over my head.

Family and friends and people I’ve loved and lost.

I am already so blessed.

This sadness will gently pass.

 

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.