This is where I sink & float

Ruminations, pt. 1.

Work has been frisking me up at its greediest. September spells out Busy Times, with few moments to ruminate with enough reminders that I myself signed up, fully aware, to be part of a career with erratic demands. It’s true that I came seeking for succinct views on the gloss (and dullness) of other industries and people. I fancied myself too delicate and not quite quick enough for reality, unintentionally soft-spoken even in the face of discomfort. And so I wanted to be roughened up, to be resilient and uncomfortable enough to be cornered into growth. There is a fear of succumbing into all the bad in being another Gen-Y caricature – self-entitled, weak-willed in the face of difficulties, finicky. But resiliency itself is an interesting concept; aside from knocking endurance into a person, you begin to wonder what sense there is in toughness after you’ve smarted from the skinned knees, still buzzing from the adrenaline. Humor me this – is resiliency even practical anymore in the 21st century? What am I looking to survive? Society’s expectations, routine, getting older, the aches of living, your attention span, social incapacities, delicately diverting self from bae? Yet I am proud when I do well in a role that was never designed with somebody like me in mind. I am just doing my job, after all, and there is a certain pride in being able to honor that role.

This is the part where I acquiesce my mortal fears. Admittedly, the fear of underachieving greets me frequently and sometimes overwhelmingly so. I’ve been having trouble in my skin again and thinking almost wildly about writing because, intuitively, this is what makes the most sense to me, this need to reconcile concepts and thoughts. There is a living, breathing affair with words that I can’t pinpoint aside from that I want to do it all the time, that I think about it actively and ardently, and that I do it in the hope that something good will come of it, without the expectancy of great recognition but reward in inspiring some modicum of meaning. In an ideal world there would be a day dedicated to dreaming and it wouldn’t be idle and pointless dreaming because it would do society a whole great deal of good.

It’s getting late and I should be getting to bed. This entry is a little bit of a wild card, the rare occasion where I am taking the time to express the messy state of rumpled, tired thinking. In the morning things will dwindle down and make more sense again and perhaps this too will be forgotten.

Good night, good night, go to sleep.

Favourite Faded Fantasy.

“I could love you more than life
If I wasn’t so afraid”

Damien – I still love you and your music even ten years after.

I am so excited. 

How great does this version sound? I almost prefer it to the recorded (falsetto) version.

5 – 7pm.

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Photo by Husaini Mustapha 

The change in address, the unattractive rubbery squeal of flip flops sloshing through puddles in the rain, men and women running about with folders and bags used as makeshift umbrellas, a colorful circus of women in tudung encompassing a wide spectrum of colors, the very real, cool, fat droplets of rain against the shadowy peek of her ear, hair sticking on napes of necks, scrape of scrapes as the exhaust pipes from passing cabs filled the air with puffs of smoke, condensation on glasses, so cold, she thought, as she reprimanded herself for forgetting her earphones once again, so cold. The air reduced to gradations of grey, the displeasing clamminess of soil and water running through toes as her thoughts seeped deeper and deeper into her mind, like twenty bleeding ungrounded defeats, distracted and distracting as she crossed the streets with purpose. 

She had inevitably offended somebody at work again today. It had been unintentional; she had raised the tone of her voice in annoyance because the gossip at work seemed uncalled for, the mocking laughter of her co-workers over another colleague had upset her, she couldn’t accept that they were calling someone a ‘fat excuse of a faggot’. She could not stifle her emotions in time to be sensible, she should not have paused to give a stern glare and a sharp passing remark to shut them up but she could not deny her natural knack for verbal vitriol. She knew upon its release that the timbre of her voice had been strained, that she had caused the halt in the traffic of laughter and conversations as empty faces focused on her and she blinked back, mouth defiantly tight, some faces surprised that she had spoken up so strongly and suddenly on the matter, the girl at work who rarely looked up from her computer.

No, no, no. She hated coming off as rigid and righteous but was well-versed in the practice of denting others. It was a small matter, really. The stares made her feel cornered. Not worth making a hoopla over. But ‘principles’. 

She shook it off, tried to placate her displeasure by thinking of what was for dinner, by thinking of warm feet under the covers, of the simple pleasure in her cat’s usual lazy greeting in strolling over to the front gate as she parked (thank god cats don’t have the sensitivity of a fucking eunuch, she thought), a mountain of books to read, surmising the simple pleasures of chopping vegetables for dinner in the privacy of the kitchen, of watching back-to-back episodes on her aging computer which froze every time her habit of opening 20 tabs and 4 windows at one go caught up with her. 

The rain continued to patter down her crowded thoughts as she stood, still and morose, safe yet startlingly isolated for the moment underneath the privacy of her umbrella. 

 

 

Heart impervious, heart rapturous.

“The memory of a perfume or of a snatch of music.”

I spend an inordinate amount of time composing mixes, keeping my Spotify account running even as I spend frantic hours multi-tasking between proofreading, analyzing data and making phone calls at work. By the side, I repeatedly exhaust lyrics and melodies of songs that have moved me. Patiently, I await refrains, bridges, choruses, guitar solos… anything that once caused the tremor of feelings. In my head are tidy folders of music I have allocated for different moments and different people and, in there lies many different soundtracks for films that don’t exist.

Running through the days in the calendar, I admit that I am swallowed up by a consummated love affair with music. It helps me cope with age, time, exhaustion, and the moodiness that often takes me over if I am not careful. I am smitten over songs that bring back memories of conversations over mediocre meals, of sprawling speeches, the split-second lighting of lingering looks, the smokiness of reverberating laughter, over smiles I’ve wished I could pocket. I have a sentimental old soul and this is to my advantage and to my detriment. But these are the songs that have inspired me, songs that have brought me through, songs that have saved me. I am overly attached to these things. Dangerously they improvise on existing emotions, make me fonder of certain people or places, amplify and reduce different subject matters in current and past living conditions.

If not careful, they contain me in utter ignorance, to an elusive state where escape is for free.

Music makes me weak, music makes me strong.

I am fiercely proud of the music that I love. You can scoff at me on this account because I fully understand what a music snob I can be. But like with words, there is an intuitive draw to music. I am possessive of these songs, and at the same time, generous in wanting to share them. I love making and receiving mixes. I love the shy surprise of not knowing what track will come up next, the anticipation of music, and most of all I love silently listening to music with people. There is no greater way to spend time.

Subconsciously, the prevalent part of me that is a dreamer continues to depend on music no matter where I go or what I do and I need this to sustain me.

Here is a mixtape I’ve composed that makes me feel good. Perhaps in its accuracy of capturing certain sentiments, a monumental mood that calls for hushed sensuality, representative of a melancholic heart which I still wonder will cripple me one day. There is a certain truth in music that helps with this deflatable ego.

So here is a gift if you are out there still reading.

I call it “Heart, Impervious”.

 

Terrible Love.

“This is called terrible love. It’s a good thing.

Terrible love is good.

It’s the only kind of love.”

 

Also, Sufjan.

Force of the Blow.

“Now I can’t change the way you feel
But I can put my arms around you
That’s just part of the deal
That’s the way I feel
I’ll put my arms around you”

  • Love at first sound, tantalizing with its slow-moving tendrils of cool sexiness amidst the mid-week rain. This is the type of song that saves you, the type of song brave enough to stand naked and aloof in front of the mirror as it laughs at its very own image of vulnerability, painted lips flowering in the dissipating blackness of the room; a woman with white teeth and a lithe curved smile. In all its bruising sensuality, Massive Attack still reigns as the inspirational instigator of naughty thoughts, even when singing about inertia.
  • They had all been markedly dissimilar, from the scents of their aftershave to the interiors of their cars to how they called her name (Farah) and in how they rustled under the weight of different words. It always mattered to her what they laughed at.
  • The conscience is like the city itself, populated by so many conflicting interests and concerns with no distinct clarity on which way to go. The prevailing government of the brain does not always win. Not even if it is in possession of dominant power.
  • If anything can be concluded from today, it’s that folding clothes does not get any more interesting with age.
  • What was that dream that dropped by the other day? The one where you were standing, by way of the back door, obstructing clear view and preventing others from entering. The kitchen light was pouring into the room but your shadow was an obstacle. That wasn’t very nice, was it? I woke up, heart thunderous. The past few weeks have revolved around a lot of Queries. I am none the stronger but ever the stranger and more malleable than in recent years. 
  • Rest in peace, Robin Williams.

lover / destroyer.

This is an old piece I’d written during my time at the U. of Iowa, under the impromptu assignment of threading together frenetic details concerning nothing in particular. I’d written it under a weak, yellow light before bed and still remember how easily it had come about. It was well-received and sparked a friendship with my instructor. I like to think of this piece under fond terms because it reminds me of frost-covered trees, the crisp smell of Fall, of long walks appeased by the promise of hot coffee and solitary time spent in crowded coffeehouses filled by students and professors alike, of burgeoning interests and of the simple joy that comes out of the act of writing. 

But without further ado:-

lover / destroyer:

After several tragedies and triumphs, I am withering and prospering again. Humans navigate, calculate, deviate, complicate. Some choose to room in attics of the mind temporarily, while others are permanent tenants. There are fewer things lonelier than the pains and sorrows of living in the 21st century. Retweet, unfollow, reblog, where’s Waldo? Invisible mediums dictate and doctor the captive audience, often with little retaliation. Many quarrel and steer from the unknown, wrestle with self-made concepts yet missing the painfully obvious. I have learned that to be realistic does not always mean having to be pessimistic and age becomes two mere digits the more you grow. With 100% certainty, the real beauties in life are silent, stunning, captivating, dizzying, rare, almost a myth, almost a whisper of a whisker, for sentimental specters to observe and consequently lose, the hallucinogenic muse, nothing the media will ever be able to fully speculate or validate. Love is falling into a body composed of music, exists as the epidemic that has the world spinning as it erodes the soul as much as it nurtures it. Feel it bloom delicately and sweetly in the bones. Not many know that heartbreak, the execution of the prodigal youth’s innocence, is the rite-of-passage to have saved us all. Although sorrow in its purest form is a chaste vision, if you burrow long enough, it gives. It gives in its abundance of generosity and symmetry. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. It glows, slows, flows.

The Wallflower Social Club.

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The Wallflower Social Club was created on the basis of aiding social cripples in gaining some vestige of confidence in their everyday communication skills. Its target audience consists of reclusive folks that fail to blend into social functions no matter how hard they try, no matter how bad (or great) the jokes they make, no matter how interesting their personalities can be, no matter how long they pretend to be engaged with their phones at social events. Most of the members of this club possess the desire to be sufficiently commanding without drawing too much attention upon themselves.

It was at the Wallflower Social Club that I met my fellow contenders.

There was a palpable slyness to these fellow wallflowers that was positively delectable. Awkward Joes and Bashful Susans, the type of individuals that were blessed in a multitude of wonderful things that did not involve great body language as a requisite but whose eyes were nevertheless alive with a strange keenness, a rare curiosity to find amongst everyday folk.

I noted upon my first visit at the Wallflower Social Club that none of the attendees were in possession of an alarming need to draw attention upon themselves and found this to be both refreshing yet highly impractical at the same time. There was a certain relief to this. It felt very sharp and alive.

In retrospect, the whole situation reminded me of birthday parties as a child. How, in the atmosphere of cheer and colorful balloons and Musical Chairs and screaming children, there would always be the presence of a child uncomfortably and glaringly excluded from the festivities, fiddling away in a corner trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. The image proved to be very touching to me. It reminded me of my one true self from birth. The whole room was filled with people like that. 

The group at the Social Wallflower Club itself was incredibly small, consisting of ten or so folks, and an instructor who possessed enough panache to handle a group of socially awkward people. The instructor was a woman in her forties who looked like she would teach meditation techniques she learned from her yoga classes and who would be on anti-depressants (this all later proved to be very true). She was shapely and had frizzy hair, much like Julia Roberts in the 90s. There was an openness to her that was very American in its form.

It was also at the Wallflower Social Club that I met Joseph.

It was when we were scooping punch into our respective red, plastic cups that I noticed his presence. He was awaiting his turn, and I noted the ‘HELLO, MY NAME IS…’ sticker on his grey pullover, the ‘Joseph’ written with perhaps the wrong choice of pen as the ink had smeared unforgivingly. His penmanship reflected elegant handwriting nonetheless. Admittedly, this had been what had attracted me to observe him better. There was just something in the way he looped his letters. 

There was just something in the way he looped his letters. 

His hair stuck out at strange angles and he had a tired look on his face, as if he had been up the night before contemplating life a bit longer than he had intended to, as if he was suffering from a hangover, or perhaps the aftermath of a thudding headache inspired by the complexities of running daily work errands. He had a five o’clock shadow on his face. His sleeves were rolled up. He smelled like despair and sleep and cheap, thin coffee. I wanted to comb his hair. 

He seemed befuddled by his presence there, as if he had somehow dropped into a hole in the ground to be brought into the other side of the world into the world’s most strangest club. 

I smiled at him. At that point in my life, I had the misleading interest to be very tender in everything that I did, and he looked like he needed some tender care. I wanted to be convinced that gentility would alleviate the roughing redness of the world, that I had some say with even the littlest influence of kindness. I wanted to be accommodating in the hope that it would single out my growing frustrations with the discouraging world. It was very sweet but not very smart.

“Would you like a smoke?” I asked.

The things he shared:

  1. He grew with the adamant desire to be clear-eyed and heavy-handed, to not be confined by the safety of a town and by the timely desires it offered.
  2. He made it a habit to not only do what was easy, but to do what was right. This did not come naturally because the community he lived in had the natural habit of cutting corners wherever they could. This initially discouraged his spirit, inspired in him a desire to be lazy. But he managed to curb this because he also wanted to know what could be done.
  3. He practiced the elasticity of this determination by running for an hour every night. The set schedule made him rigid in his ways, and he did not have a single ounce of fat on him either. He was a lean, mean machine who did not feel outrageously sad or outrageously happy and this worked.
  4. He saw no need for fiddling away too much time on refreshing social pages. 
  5. He had no qualms about ruining books, sharing books, and/or stealing books. 
  6. He attended parties, he had enough social graces within him to be able to make the occasional good joke, he attracted women, and not always the same type of women either. He did not truly belong at the Social Wallflower Club. He was a phony. It was all a guise, a scam. This was part of his personal study done out of personal needs. 
  7. He learned how to properly move to music because of a girl. 

July.

Hello,

I have been meaning to write. I have been busy, and I know I have been careless.

No huge call for error as most time slots have been messily sectioned for a variety of different activities meant to keep me occupied, the type of busy where you forget that you have a stomach and an ego and a mind to feed. It often feels like there is so much to do but there is only one of me. But I have not been unhappy, and things are mostly green, and I am okay and persisting and surviving. Whenever there arises a call of distress over the repetition of routine, as common amongst folks like myself, I remind myself that if the Japanese are able to maintain a rigid schedule in order to attain a higher state of mental strength, then realistically I should be able to do the same. Realistically.

So, something new: as part of a writing program known as UnRepresented KL, I managed to complete a short-story-and-a-half (the ‘-and-a-half’ is because story number two is not complete, and I foresee it not being completed until much later down the road). The ten weeks of this program proved to be wonderful in many aspects, firstly because I inherited with it a group of comfortable, kind, and wonderful new companions, and secondly because it gave me the exposure I needed exposing to. The story I managed to write and which I eventually read at the Cooler Lumpur festival is one that I still feel a little funny about. Hesitant, because for the first story I’ve ever completed and pushed out to the public, it arguably still has its faults. But on the other hand, I am also proud that I managed to sit through and complete something. The story is based on a person dear to my life, and I still hope to rework at it enough for it to become fuller and riper someday.

Things have been bleak here. Whatever happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is a human atrocity if there ever was any, and my heart and prayers go out to everybody affected, from family, friends, loved ones, and any individual that has been somewhat moved by the news of great tragedy.

I will stop here for now.

If anybody out there is still reading this space, I thank you for your patience and your time and wish you the best of health.

The roundtable with the Lazy Susan.

The roundtable with the Lazy Susan was where it all happened.

The table had made its first debut in 1979 when my father was a boy of seventeen. It had been an early pick because of its functionality and because such tables were common in those days. It was made of wood and could be opened up into a bigger oblong shape for special occasions. It was not fancy or expensive, but it was certainly purposeful. Tok saw it fit for her new home.

Tok, my grandmother, was a thrifty lady with a natural knack for business and a ferocity for survival. She was Cheah Swee Kwan at birth, Faridah Abdullah for the remainder of her life after marriage, but was always known as just Tok to me in the eight years that I knew her. Tok was a strong, exemplary woman who single-handedly raised four children — unabashed laughter and white teeth, soap and medicine, an absolute woman beyond her years.

The roundtable was the centerpiece in the lives of Tok and her children, where everybody gathered around it come Saturday like it was an unspoken yet unconditional rule. The comfort of home-cooked food was integral, simply because it filled everybody up with love, nutrition and happiness.  Tok would rotate cooking everybody’s favourites, her dishes a fusion of different cultures, traditions and ideas. Ikan cencaru pedas for Dad, porridge with minced meat for Auntie Yin, popiah for Pak Bet, otak-otak, Cantonese Char Kuey Teow… the list went on and on.

The celebrations that revolved around the table were arbitrary — joy wasn’t dictated by the idea of commercial celebrations or by sheer digits. Any moment that had rhyme or reason for laughter meant that it would be a shared moment, and sharing was most important of all. After all, the Lazy Susan itself was designed to share.

There were many card games and intense Scrabble sessions that the adults would take part in competitively till the late hours of the night on that table. These sessions were often accompanied by the steady whirring of the fan, the backdrop of faint 90s cartoon sounds from the television, along with endless coffee and snacks. I like to think that all these components combined made for great conversations.

Amongst the comical occasions that colored the roundtable was when Tok would brew the herbs she brought home from the local sinseh. A foul-smelling stench would overpower the air and a suspicious-looking pot would make a feature in the middle of the Lazy Susan. “Drink it to clear up your eyes,” Tok would say. Nothing cleared up the house faster as everybody would suddenly announce their leave with hasty excuses and shifty-eyed glances and yet nobody could escape from their fate of having to drink up their share of the dreaded medicine.

Another memory would be when my mother had walked in on me eating chicken feet from a bowl once. Uncommon to her culture and way of living, she had screamed her head off at the sight of her two year-old chewing gnarly bits of feet. I still faintly recall enjoying the taste although I never took to trying it again.

“It seems like all of you are always laughing and eating and then talking about the next meal.”

There were many meals that stretched the span of numerous happy belly laughs. The family members that came from other lands found the culture, the sheer obsession around food and the (in)activity of sitting around a table for hours, perplexing. Not everybody necessarily understood the beauty of the tradition that surrounded the roundtable, perhaps because it is so typically Malaysian to draw health from an obsession with food and good company.  Nobody knew how to best articulate the experience to foreigners because like love, it was simply an experience that was simply felt or not felt, and it has often been wondered if the experience is a happy inheritance exclusive to every Malaysian.

It was the roundtable with the Lazy Susan that brought Tok’s family together. Things regularly shapeshifted to different forms there – spats, tears, discussion, surprises, reconciliations, but almost always ultimately into a form of joy and familial acceptance. After her passing, it became close to impossible to get everybody together again in one place.

Nobody is certain of the fate of the roundtable with the Lazy Susan. Perhaps it is still at the old house, bringing together other families. I’d like to think so although I am not so sure. Sometimes I dream about retracing or tiptoeing back in time to experience a taste of what it was like to have a familiar favourite dish waiting for me every Saturday and to have a Scrabble game to look forward to.

In my family, that table made history.  That table is history.

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