This is horrible. I am now down to one or two days to finish the dayjob tasks I should have finished days ago. The deadlines are my own, but I like to be a bit ahead so I have spare time when the holiday haze finally lifts. However my heart has been so unwilling and my body has connived to shut down in one way or another whenever I would make the hard push to get things done.
I have been beating around the proverbial bush, in ever-widening circles. Although yesterday I managed to make a mental link somehow to the train of thinking I need to ride in order to do a good job of the work I must do. I'm still on board but I'm hanging by a single hand and foot and getting distracted by the passing scenery...
I have not been entirely unproductive though, let me make that clear. I was merely unproductive when it came to the work itself, but I was prolific everywhere else. It does seem like I have a lot to do still in making my disparate lives and selves play well together. The severe lack of space and sunlight in my spot where I live aggravate the whole situation.
Today I am dragging myself over to the cafe across the main street and will stay there all afternoon and churn out at least one of two sets of documents I am supposed to churn out. The rest I will do tomorrow morning, and finish just in time to for the changing of the year. For this I have pinched a budget from what I have left after Christmas (that paycheck delay has certainly added a dark cloud to everything), and I pinched enough to feed myself well afterwards.
I know very few people will relate, because most people are just somehow able to do what needs to be done when it comes to work duties and responsibilities, about taking care of the practical aspects of life. I used to be like that, before I realised what I really want to be and what I really want to do. I risk being labeled ungrateful, to be so resistant to this "blessing" of a source of income. But I cannot help how I look at things, and how I see beyond the immediate short-term rewards, and how the fruits of my labour are more than being able to pay the bills and buy necessities or even being able to pursue some personal goal. I keep hoping I could live as decently doing something else that do not contribute to the perpetuation of a society with values I wish, with my art, to inspire to change.
Lately I have been getting sick a lot. Small pains and aches and illy sensations every time I remember that I will be trading off a bit of soul for a bit of gold. I try to look beyond even more, lengthen my vision, try to calculate how in the end I will redeem myself and my decisions. That it will all even out, cancel out any ill consequences from the deals I made with devils, even earn me a bit of goodwill and perhaps even a divine boon.
Meanwhile, I eke out the occasional art piece, which has been quite a challenge as I awkwardly navigate through the repeated attempted shifts between being artist and being dayjob professional. I often end up straddling, as I always try to find an integration point. I hope to find it soon.
Just this morning it struck me. I am about to do a campaign in January in an attempt to truly shape my life the way I dream it to be, and in the process integrate all aspects of what matter to me into a synchronised whole.
The campaign will primarily be in the form of a conversation of exploration with a potential employer. As I was doing my update on my analog catalog of quotes and notes, I came across very specific passages that sparked a tiny chain of epiphanies and connections. Such is the reward of making the time and effort to revisit the words that have made an impact upon me. Such is the reward of nonstop learning and a continuous quest for understanding.
My challenge since I became an artist has been to integrate that life with the life I had before. I know that it is not simply a matter of putting together two separate things. There will be adjustments and compromises. It is, in a way, a marriage of my selves, and it has been a very difficult one. The key word is integration, to end up with a whole instead of just two things stuck together. There should be a harmony, there should be a flow and a flexibility between them. Order and chaos in balance. Reason and emotion in productive creative play.
What I want for my dayjob is not the norm. It asks for certain privileges, certain permissions and leeways. It also promises something that is intangible, hard to measure and even idealistic. It is a long-term thing, not an instant spectacular show. It is slow, low-key, and not flashy. It is quiet and involves a lot of invisible work. Only someone who will truly see and understand it will have the courage to invest in it, to create that job title or position, to hire the person who will attempt to begin the redefinition of the mainstream.
What I want for my dayjob is to reflect more of my creative life, to bring more of my creative insights into it, to bring more of my life philosophy into it. I wish to lessen the conflict and friction due to the difference in values that underlie the disciplines. If there is a way that I can somehow plant my own creative seeds into the dayjob that I do, if there is a way I can somehow fulfill, even for the tiniest bit, what an artist is supposed to give to the world by shifting the mindsets in my dayjob industry for the tiniest fraction towards that which is in favour of what I believe in -- care for nature, conscientious and conscious consumption, sustainable consumption, creation over consumption, essentialism, that sort of thing. If I can bring my perspective into those conference tables and in the process inspire the kind of work that is more thoughtful, less template.
I am inspired by Ann Hamilton's words that say : "It is the task of the artist to lead the leaders by staying at the threshold." Instead of being absorbed by the system, I want to help the system break free from itself and to evolve, to be enlightened and be brave enough to shift, even if so slowly and so small a way at first, to begin to explore new ways of doing its work, to take a few risks to be a pioneer towards a new economics, a new culture of consumption.
My dayjob is in advertising and marketing, often working for global multinationals who are all about shares and profit, and for whom the end justified any means. What I want is impossible, or so it seems. For now.
I'm a dreamer, aren't I?
I have heard enough soft and not so soft discouragements and devil's advocates, enough cold hard sharp reasoning swished about to rip my imagined possibilities into shreds. Even now I am troubled by the misunderstanding of why I might go back into employment, and how I am thinking of doing it.
But I still dream, and imagine, and find ways through, find new arguments and proof, find new inspiration. I cannot help it. My artist self cannot help it, and she has grown so much stronger now, less likely to fold and defer to the defaults. I am much stronger now. And much braver. And at this point, what is most important I think, I hope I have much better luck.
I started today with a mind sweep. It eased my thoughts a bit to be rid of the constant nattering of too many random reminders. I wrote it all down on paper first. Then copied it all into my Evernote, organising and clustering the tasks as I go. My mind then takes a visual snapshot of it to carry around - a single organised chunk that will keep still and quiet and accessible.
I have some dayjob tasks to complete this week so that is putting on a bit of a heavy cloudy mood. My way to deal with it is not to push or force myself too much but just to flow slowly into it. Thus I'll be getting around to it in a very roundabout way, taking twice or thrice the time to finish.
I have to finish reading two more books to complete the Goodreads challenge. I am already 90+% done with one. I think I'll make it.
I'm running late on a hundred things. The season always does that to me and yet I never get used to it. I feel harassed. I get so tired I can't even sit up long enough to finish a chapter or an episode.
The writing keeps me relatively steady. That is why you've been seeing a lot of posts lately, even long ones. I escape into the blank page and try to put some sense of order and control in my days by weaving my thoughts and feelings into words. Lately there have been a lot of unexpected intense flashbacks. I suspect it is because something is indeed going to shift in a big way, and the past will even be farther into another life, and the sudden recollections are like goodbyes. They will have less power in the new story that will unfold, they have been spent.
On a positive note, I am able to paint again. I have been finding it difficult to settle in my too-dark, too-cramped studio. Perhaps today, to widen the circumference of that roundabout to the dayjob tasks I will find it a lesser evil to squint and contort my way into finishing an art piece or two.
I am planning to do one more decluttering minimalising move. I'll gamble a bit on having literally next to nothing while I wait for the resources to be able to fill in the essentials. I will live empty (or as empty as I have ever been), as one of the runes sometimes advised in order to ready my self, my selves, for a true abundance.
In this country, Christmas lasts until the day of the Three Kings (roughly the first Sunday of the new year), so nothing goes down until then. The trees and the lights stay up. The 26th is merely a steadying pause after the intensity of Christmas day, and before the flurry of new year preparations begin.
My family (dad, mom, sister) and I spent most of Christmas day at the mall, where a whole lot of other families had the same idea. Lunch was a two-hour feast at a shabu-shabu & grill buffet. Then it was a series of buying more gifts for each other that were extensions of the gifts that were given the night before. My sister also had a few more gift shopping to do for other people. I wanted to shop for many things but the paycheck did not come in December so it was just a wee bit ache-ful to be so constrained. I also wanted to have bingsu but there was a very long line at the dessert cafe. Dinner was a simpler fare of breakfast-style meals because my dad was beginning to get tired of the string of rich and extravagant foods.
Meanwhile, I chafed at my lack of sufficient budget to give myself what I wanted. As the last few days ticked by I found myself growing a new wishlist. It's a very specific list, of things and experiences and circumstances and outcomes. Aside from my own lack of money, there is also a shortage of companions (with their own money and time) who could share and enjoy certain activities according to a similar philosophy and mindset. Still, the lack of companion is easier to remedy because I have long grown used to and fond of my solitude.
I am now thinking of revisiting, rewriting, and reviving my Life List, as inspired by The Mighty Girl. It helps a lot to write things down, and also being specific. My own personal rule about the list is that everything in it must be meaningful to me, not just items to do for the sake of doing it. Nothing half-hearted. Nothing that is expected by others, but only what I expect and demand of myself.
Sometimes I wish someone would just sweep in and whisk me off somewhere to make all my dreams come true.
For almost a week now I've been sick. I have been constantly having the threatening feeling of nausea or wincing through what feels like an acidic revolution in my stomach. I know it is all psychosomatic, and that I have been extremely stressed. The stress has become so intense that it is now manifesting physically in the same way it has always manifested since I was a child. My parents had often rushed me to the hospital doubled over with pain or throwing up, and the diagnosis would almost always be because of stress. Yes, I was very stressed even as a child. My stresses then had to do with school, and fearing failure (mainly because I feared disappointing those who would make their disapointments felt), and also occasionally out of fear of the things that go bump in the night (because I believed I could sense them in the dark, scratching through the thin walls that separated where they were from where I was. I was also a child that frequently had nightmares and would wake up screaming).
My stress these days is stemming from my decision to go back to employment next year, and also from the big demanding high-stakes project that I am scheduled to do for the first quarter. While it is very clear why I am making that decision, and also why I have said yes to the project, I still feel something akin to how a claustrophobic person would feel about getting into an elevator.
But I really, really want and need to do certain things in 2017. And from my experience no one else could make those things happen to me than me. I do not have a Stieglitz like O'Keeffe. (It is possible I do not even have a whiff of O'Keeffe's talent to merit a Stieglitz.)
So many little details are getting defined and sharpened in the last days of this year and it is painfully frustrating not to be able to move forward because of lack of resources. Yet another lesson on patience. Georgia endured years of being poor and having to work in uninspiring conditions. I cannot complain. I have to be resilient. I have to endure, even though it feels like I am many years too late, and all the odds are against me.
I am not too late.
There is always hope.
I am going to paint today.
In the late 1990s (by this time you are beginning to pick the pattern that the 1990s was my decade of many youthful follies), I was into exploring less traditional spiritual belief and rituals, and I have been particularly fascinated by the solstices. It broke my heart that I lived in a tropical country instead of one with four seasons (to be honest, I am still quite heartbroken about it even though my sister has been telling me lately not to move into a country with winters because it will make me into a crooked old woman because my bones would bend from the cold). It only added to my oddity that I used to practice small simple seasonal rituals for seasons that were just not happening here (but were nevertheless happening in my head).
Now with social media making the world just a wee bit easier to navigate, it is normal to see solstice-related posts, greetings, and celebrations that make my pagan heart stir up in nostalgia.
The title of this post, consequently, reminds me of the title of an episode in Dawson's Creek (yes, that TV series) which was The Longest Day. That was the episode where the main female character chooses the main male character's best friend. The best friend had to risk losing to all the history between the two mains because the two mains were each other's first loves.
I wept, like a naive fool, while watching that episode (which I got on DVD so I could watch it again and again and torment myself, although by now I have thrown it all away). Here was why: I had a best friend and she had a bit of a history with a man who was also my very close friend. We all worked in the same office. Their story was a kind of a loose end, because he confessed his love for her but she did not accept. Life moved on, the man and I grew close -- a separate friendship that was ours alone. I literally had to split time between him and my best friend.
You could guess how that went, I started to fall for him. Which was a very normal, almost predictable, course of Things, given that we were highly compatible, had intelligent philosophical conversations, and he never had any qualms about being sweet -- holding my hand, hugging me to comfort and console, and kissing me on the forehead when the world became way too harsh. No, those gestures of affection were never more than what they were at the moment. I never assumed, although I hoped. Fervently.
Back then I had a rather unfortunate habit of confessing. Looking back now, I see it as a manifestation of wanting to keep control. I hold the script, I call the shots, I steer the story. I wanted to set things ahead so I could prepare for all possibilities of endings, even though I only hoped for one particular kind.
So I decided to confess. Because I was impatient. Because I was afraid. Because I wanted to cross that platonic line.
Two days before I confessed, I told my best friend about it. As a courtesy, given their history, and also as my best friend. I was also, in a way, asking permission, or a blessing. Again, a courtesy. If she had said no, I would have listened. She did not say no. She said it was alright.
The next day she went to him. She said it was for closure. I vaguely remember her telling me about it before she went to meet him. I trusted her.
The day after that, my confession was pre-empted by their suddenly being a couple. I found out later that the closure was more of a last-chance-what-if-pitch-realisation of sorts. They were married a year after.
It took me seven years to get over him (and all the negative backlash of that whole experience).
On that seventh year, that was when a soul reaper, a shinigami, found me, and took me out of that battered road of hurt. His was a Death Note that turned out to be a lease for a new life instead. That shinigami led me to other shinigami, and into wielding swords, and getting tangled with the soul threads of the land of the rising sun, and a whole new chapter of my life unfolded.
Since I left employment six years ago I have never missed the parties, whether official or un-official. I love the one-on-ones that remained though, now with just a handful of people with whom I have made lasting connections that outlived the convenience of being in the same office, friendships which I find very fulfilling and heartwarming.
In the past few years I have also lessened attendance to family reunions where the only thing people knew to talk about with me are either my weight or my being unmarried. It was a relief to be spared from all of it. Looking back, I realise that parties have never really been fun for me. I was just always going through the motions because I felt I had to.
Parties, for me, were generally open stages waiting for a plot, an act, a scene. Something exciting, something good, something hopeful. I try to look for something, a trail to follow, whether for myself or for someone who interests me. Small talk bore me. Parlor games I detest. Compulsory participation in performances and programs are troublesome. Costumes should be optional. I am allergic to alcohol so I cannot drink to "loosen up" and "let go". Too much noise and movement exhaust me.
I looked for story as a way to make meaning within that gathering, to find my footing within such a containment where I am expected to be other or more than what I usually am within the daily routines of life. I guess my own expectation was for things happening in other or more ways than they usually do in the daily routines of life. I need a focus, an anchor of some sort, otherwise I would drown. I needed layers, interweavings, threads, sparks, eurekas, seeds. Always something positive. Something that could grow. But everything tended to be too fleeting, too fast, too temporary. I cannot grasp fun in a scenario where there are too many stimuli and one is somehow expected to be everything and everywhere all at once, and where the same things happened over and over again, every single time.
I also have a string of not-too-pleasant memories from parties.
My oldest memory was a family reunion where, for some reason, there was a tradition of having all the gifts given and opened in front of everyone else. My own family, our household, was not well-off. All the other households were better off than we were. I knew we were living at a minimum, and that we were getting by with the occasional help of my grandmother, and by the sheer resourcefulness of my parents outside of my dad's regular work. So there was this particular Christmas, and gifts were piled on the floor, at least half of them as big as, if not bigger than, my five-year old self. My grandmother would preside, calling out the names on the gift tags, and the gifts would be mostly for the children, and the ritual would take the whole afternoon. And in all that long time my name was never called because my parents chose to have our own family ritual on Christmas eve so their gifts to me were not in that pile. It would not have been too bad except I noticed that the aunts and uncles, godfathers and godmothers, also gave extravagant gifts to nieces and nephews and godchildren, older siblings gifted younger ones (picked and paid for by the parents, of course). So every child had multiple presents, mostly expensive toys, some still smelling of the foreign country from which they were imported or brought home from. By the time my name was called I didn't want to take the gift because I knew it would not be the same. I was embarrassed. But I was pushed and forced to abide by the ritual. So I opened it and it was a set of practical children's underwear. I held back my tears. I was called twice again, my gifts among the last few pieces on the floor, having been buried beneath the pile, like afterthoughts. I refused to open the next ones, feeling ashamed and pitiful. My parents took them home and I opened them at home and I no longer remember what they were but there were no toys, nothing spectacular or magical or amazing. No impractical simply pretty things. I did not understand then, at that young age, why there was such a difference, why there was such a gap. I never felt like blaming my parents but I did feel like there was something wrong with that whole display of abundance as if everyone was on the same playing field.
There is this one distinct memory of coming home from a classmate's birthday party when I was in high school and I went straight to my room and I cried. There was an inexplicable heaviness in my heart that needed to come out. Now, years later, I know what it was. It was loneliness. I came from a party and came back feeling even more lonely than before I ever went to that supposedly fun gathering. There was food and there was dancing, and I remember there were the boys I had crushes on. But I also remember I was not all there, either to myself or to others. I was a caricature saying what should be said, behaving as I was expected to behave. I was invisible - hidden just beneath the do-gooder class president and valedictorian was the self that wanted more to happen, more to unfold. I felt constrained and stifled. This is it? This is all there is? were the unarticulated words that crept through my dismayed heart. I saw through the eyes that were looking at me but weren't really seeing me. I heard through the words that were thin with meaning and intention. I have been reading too many books and was hoping that this outer world would mirror more of what was inside me. Why was there so much clumsiness, so much difficulty to express oneself? So much hesitation and uncertainty? I remember trying to make myself look smaller and weaker than I was, more delicate, to look just a little bit more vulnerable and sensitive and innocent so the boys would not find me intimidating.
I was a wallflower. I still am. In company parties I was brought to the dance floor by girlfriends as an act of solidarity. A few times I have been asked out of kindness, because I was so obviously a wallflower that clung too fondly to the wall. I was a project, a snail to be coaxed out of my shell, which was supposed to be for my own good and benefit. There was one instance when the office heartthrob singled me out and tried to pull me to the dance floor at the urging of our friends. His hands were holding mine, and it was but a single thread of reason that held me back. Self-preservation kicked in. I knew myself well enough, I could not pull back the tide if I released it, if I allowed myself to indulge. It was just a dance for fun, to celebrate the spirit of the season, it was just a party thing. But I knew there would be a part of me, that old familiar self that was always grasping for more, more, more. That self I could not quite control with its wild impulses and insatiable longings and its powerful dreaming. I could not risk it. That self would fall in love unreasonably in a heartbeat, make a mountain out of a single grain of sand, whip a storm out of nothing. Dance for days long after the party itself had ended.
There was another Christmas party, when I was half in love with one of the new young artists in the office. I was a "veteran" by then, at least nearly a decade that boy's senior. I was an old maid by society standards, way past my due date once my age left the days of the calendar months. I was beginning to self-preserve better then, which meant leaving the party early as soon as the obligatory presence has been fulfilled. I did not want to linger just to repeat the same patterns of discontent. So I made my way through the dance floor to get to the exit. And along the way goodbyes had to be said because people asked questions why I seemed to be heading out. There were the usual free and casual holiday hugs and kisses. Many were half-drunk with alcohol or happiness or both. I was, as always, too dead-sober. And then he was there, that young artist, smiling warmly, so quick to take my hand and press a cheek and half a mouth to my own cheek, to say Merry Christmas. So sweet, oh so sweet. I wanted to cry. I wanted him.
And of course there was that one party where I was a wearing a small sparkly crown to comply with the party theme, a crown I won in a beauty pageant when I was in third grade, and I was watching the one I loved then choose someone else over me, someone who happened to have just betrayed my deepest trust.
I went to all those gatherings hoping and hungry and had always left unsatisfied. I heard a different drum that no one else was dancing to. I looked around the room, eager for a kindred spirit who would look back in recognition, and found none.
I don't know why these thoughts and memories are surfacing now, of all the years I have carried them sleeping inside me. Why they are stirring now, wanting space and light?
These days I have learned to say no instead of just going for the sake of going. My time is even more precious now.
I would rather spend my hours until midnight barefoot in the garden, growing new stories.
I'm three books away from my Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge. I am currently actively reading ten books. We'll see which ones make it to the finish line.
I was sick the other day, and was throwing up way past midnight, and was in bed for most of the time watching another girl on TV curled up on the floor just like me because she was also sick. Except that her story progressed into having a happily-ever-after while I stayed curled up on my bed making my illness worse by worrying about whether the client's paycheck would make it before Christmas or if I had to bear the tension of a tight budget until January.
Last night I had one long nightmare about a big project I am supposed to do in January. I was horribly stressed when I woke up. I also know that the thought of going back to regular work next year has been weighing on me.
The other night I dreamt of a giant monster fish, large as a seven-storey building, all dark and spiny and sharp and menacing, rising up out of a river. It hovered in the air for a while and then splashed back into the water, causing an overflow that washed all the streets clean. The day before that I chanced upon a post that said dreaming of water is good because it means a purification.
I am feeling the urge to throw things away again. Yesterday I re-arranged my studio for the nth time because I am still having difficulty working with the very limited space and light.
I found out today that the paycheck I'm counting on is not going to be released this year. This means missing rent payment for the new year and further tightening of the budgets until I get word on when I can expect to get paid.
I spent the afternoon in a Korean cafe on an Artist Date. I wrote in my journal, tried to draw, and then I painted in my Moleskine sketchbook. The moment I started painting I felt the tightness in my heart begin to ease, and I felt the layers of disappointment loosen. It was as if a fairy godmother had waved a wand over me and spoke a spell of comfort. I felt myself become more person and less pumpkin. Someday I will finally become enough to wear those glass slippers and actually get to dance at the ball.
Looking at the pattern of my life, I have always been a very visual person, relying primarily on my sense of sight to navigate my way through the world. This is an obvious explanation for my predisposition towards painting and writing -- I like thoughts and ideas put down in visible form on paper or canvas. Even poetry, for me, is a visual thing, each line a tightrope that holds a story in balance. The writing of a language that I am not familiar with is as fascinating as a photograph to my eyes. I have a fondness for drawing maps and flowcharts to elucidate my thoughts, I gesture in the air when I speak in an attempt to manifest what I am saying.
However I am aurally-challenged -- phone conversations are torture to me, and I broke into cold sweat during listening comprehension exams when I was studying Nihongo. Music is something I enjoy in context, meaning that there is an accompanying visual in my head for me to fully appreciate listening to it. That is why I am partial to movie or show soundtracks (because they give me a starting clue on what to see in my head, a seed for a fantasy), or susceptible to music that I hear while I am in the midst of a significant or traumatic experience. I can easily love or hate a song based on the circumstances within which I heard it. The song "Teenage Dirtbag" by Wheatus, for instance, evokes a particular memory and setting. It was the very late 1990s, and it was at a company Christmas party. There was a local band playing it, and playing it really well. The volume of the music was like solid air wrapping everyone in a hot excited embrace. I was standing at one end of the dance floor, a wide grin splitting my face to cover up the actual turmoil inside me as I watched the one I loved across at the other end of the dance floor be sweet to the woman whom he had chosen over me. I remember that the party theme was to wear something on your head, and I was wearing a small sparkly crown from my grade school days that I got when I was around 9 or 10 years old because I won a beauty pageant (I was Miss United Kingdom and I wore a lovely royal gown). I must have thought the crown would bring me some remnant of magic from those childhood days, of being the one chosen instead of another. These days my Spotify playlist is made up of Japanese and Korean soundtracks from films and TV shows, occasionally interrupted by songs in English that are altogether off the mainstream plus a few classics in their original or remade versions. It's a rather mushy dreamy playlist, and that crowned young woman in the Christmas party would not have believed I would still have the heart for such hope now after all that have happened.
My sense of taste is tied up with whatever story I am involved in at the moment. So these days I crave a lot of Korean and Japanese food. I do have a preference for non-sweet foods -- spicy, salty, sour. Instead of sugar-sweet I prefer the subtlety of cream, but I have specific vulnerability to caramel and custards. I have a peculiar way of being able to describe certain tastes by likening them to inedible objects. Such as something tasting like "wood" or "cockroach" or "scented rubber eraser". I have been known to describe dishes as tasting like "a dirty wet rag", or having the texture of "dust that is often found on the windowsill". I know the flavour of petrichor, and I can pick up the taste of sadness or neglect. I love the taste of the sea, and of forests. Coffee in its many variations carry different stories and many of them have been bittersweet. Lately I find myself drinking less coffee and more tea.
In the late 1990s (yes, that decade has been quite turbulent for me in many ways), I fell in love with a highly intelligent and creative man who also possessed some physical characteristics that echoed those of Neil Gaiman's the Sandman (the Dream King, Morpheus, Dream of the Endless). As I was then supernaturally and magically inclined as I am now, the combination of attributes was just plain irresistible and appealed to my very young and naive spirit. We worked in the same office and he was already one of the big bosses. But I had my own talents and skills as well so I was not entirely unnoticed despite my lower position in the company hierarchy. The glaring problem actually was, he liked men. But there was no way for me to control how I felt and so I must simply ride out the waves until the seas of my affection calmed again. At that time he used to wear a particular cologne called Green Water, which reminded me of tea and leaves and forests where small pools of water mirror everything else but your reflection. I hunted for that cologne and used to spray it on my pillow so I would dream of him. The scent made him real to me in a way that real life could not quite capture. At some point I confessed my love to him through a handbound book of handwritten poems, and he was kind and grateful, and he never made me feel foolish or stupid, and for that I still love him although the love has become now the safe sort that is rooted in gratitude and admiration.
In the early 2000 I was into burning incense because I was exploring other forms of spiritual beliefs and spiritual journeys, and I was attracted to the rituals of burning and smoke and the idea of being able to slip through in between worlds. I liked woody and leafy scents more than the floral or fruity ones, and I remember going to great lengths to obtain frankincense which to me evoked memories of things that never happened and places I've never been to.
Last night I went into a Korean beauty shop and bought myself a rose-scented cologne. It has a very distinct blend, a softness that is often absent in either local or western versions. I wear it and I feel like an invisible cloud forms around me. I need that thread of sensation that what I am smelling is a piece of that country, from that very place where I want to go, that I am wearing it on my skin and becoming an echo of it, and perhaps akin energies will then gravitate more towards me and pull me closer towards that destination.
The sense of touch is the sense I am least versed in. I am still learning the language of this particular sense, how to synchronise my body with my heart and my mind, with my very spirit. That is why I have been making particular efforts to match my inside with my outside. For many years my body, my physical self, has been an obstruction to everything else of myself. It was never enough - not enough of being pretty, skinny, or young, or being nimble, well-coordinated, or strong -- and thus I have always felt that my physical self was my weakest self, and that it was deficient as well in communicating and connecting.
I am suspicious of touch, for many reasons, but the main two have been: 1) because of how I was brought up with traditional Catholic repressions and 2) because I never felt that anyone would really want to be that close to me without some rational motive that included duty and politeness. When it became social norm to hug and kiss/air-kiss as a way of greeting, I longed for the intimacy that touching originally had. Nuances were harder to read when anyone can just hold anyone's hand, and people were so free with their kisses and embraces. When was it a casual gesture and when was it something more? I remember standing on the stairs halfway between the two floors of our office, and being hugged and then kissed on the forehead because I was feeling a bit sad that day, and I was never sure how much to weigh into that sweetness because I was so blinded by being in love with that person and I did not want to misinterpret.
When I practised kendo I had a breakthrough of sorts on coming to terms with my body, although it was also an occasion that forced me to face all its limitations. I had to stop practising kendo eventually because I could not put myself together well enough to be able to do it well. I realised that I was weak all over, even in my other senses and my other aspects, and that I was not as whole as I thought I was. On the year that I left kendo and put down the (bamboo) sword, that was when I started to find my way into making art. Now I am finally beginning to fit my body into the rest of myself. It is not perfect, oh so far from it. But I know now how it wants to be dressed and what colours it loves and that it can work with silvered hair without any loss of confidence. It feels less guilty about feeling.
I have a long way to go but it's all coming together now. I am coming together. Still a lot of awkward moments, and inner quarrels, and blame-throwing. Still a lot of sliding back into brokenness. But I am keeping at it, and I am making progress. I am engaging each sense to participate in this story I am weaving now. I am doing my best to be all here, bearing the full weight of myself into shaping my tale. Whole-hearted, indeed, venturing as if my heart or my spirit has never been broken.
One client presentation today. Two document tasks due tomorrow. Lots of reviewing research studies and preparing fieldwork documents for next week. Dayjob duties. Been itching to sit down and claim a large chunk of time to finish hand-painted tokens for friends across the seas. There is also the painting I want to make to gift to a Japanese couple who have only ever shown me kindness and consideration when I was still practising kendo.
On the other hand, I enjoyed an out-of-town slumber "party" with a kindred spirit on Monday (the party mainly consisting of a movie marathon with a lot of Daniel Henney in it), and I am looking forward to a long overdue lunch with a dear friend tomorrow (which will include some calligraphy tip-sharing). There was also a Christmas "party" yesterday afternoon with a friend and mentor, during which I was told I am about to "seek my destiny" in 2017, and I received a book of collected quotes on LOVE by Paulo Coehlo.
I am not fully feeling the so-called holiday spirit. What I am feeling instead is like being on a boat tossed about by a sea that is about to shift tides. The sky overhead is a map of dark grey clouds pierced through by swords of sunlight. There is a scent of lightning and a scent of rain, and of course the scent of the sea. The wind flirts with the water, and I am cold.
I am not sad, nor am I happy in the sense that one is supposed to be during these times. I am in suspense. I am in the middle of a daydream. I imagine : sitting amidst trees, a poetry book in hand, reading aloud in response to the rustling leaves. Or walking along a blank beach that is the opposite of tropical and sunny, just water and sand and only pale blues, beiges, and greys, and I am the spot of colour in my bright floral dress that jolts the scene like a first love. Or I am in a coffee shop in a foreign country surrounded by quiet strangers, and I am painting in my sketchbook, and I am writing poems. Or I am in a second-hand book shop in yet another foreign country, and the books are all written in a language I cannot fully understand, but I love the paper and the scent of ink and years, and my fingers trail on the spines and come away trailing ghosts, and the ghosts will whisper to the people I come across as I walk on the street until one of them hears, listens, and looks.
Right now I am feeling sleepy. This morning I woke up and fell asleep. I dreamed I was running in the rain. Then I dreamed I was a flower rising up from a crack in the pavement, opening into the sky, and I was thirsty.
Aaagh. Fudge it.
The magic is strong and a little bit wilder than usual today. Which means it will be a harder than usual battle trying to get some dayjob work done.
Shinigami. Soul reapers. Death gods. Raven kings. And goblins, particularly the royal kind, descendants of old gods, or keeper of labyrinths, more akin to high faeries than monsters, intelligent and beautiful. My vulnerabilities, the patterns of the tales repeating in sharper starker forms, within the unfolding spiral of my own quest. My left foot trapped in a forest somewhere, and I keep feeling a slithering sensation around my ankle. I have heard it said that serpents ascend to dragonhood when they achieve a greatness, perhaps something like the destruction of a paradise? Or the simple temptation of a woman who has been secretly longing for something beyond the defaults she has been given? The flower-marked have been sent out of their courts: one from each season; one each from the courts of day, dawn, night, and twilight; one each from the courts of light, dark, and grey -- to watch the doorways, to ask the riddles, to pass the judgments of whether I pass the tests, to send the messengers, to whisper into the ears of Kairos who is god of synchronicities, to grant a boon out of sheer whim or out of love.
These are the run of my thoughts, so far and away from where my daily life demands them to go. Always the flowers lure me, catch my gaze, draw me into the intricacies of their impossibility. The path insists to be walked. A sweet singing always just ahead, the source of the music out of sight pulling me deeper -- I know I'm way in over my head when I begin to hear music. That is always a sign of enchantment for me, the music weaving itself into my days, changing the very fabric of my daily life. Something's afoot, that is a certainty. Something shadows me, unseen, unrevealed, a suggestion, a secret.
My left foot drags, slows me down, while my right foot does its best to be righteous. This constant straining to be sane and sensible and reasonable is a drain. The wildness sometimes slips through when I am not vigilant enough, and then something spills or topples over, and the mask slips and I am almost caught in my carelessness.
There is a noisy clamour inside me now. So many subtle and violent stirrings from so many that have been asleep. Sleepwalking and sleeptalking, with eyes open yet seeing nothing before them but gazing at something invisible. Tenuous tightrope threads hold the weight of ten thousand dreams traversing the makeshift bridges of my belief, as strong only as my spirit is strong and as my heart is true.
My hands are portals, having so much in common with that door in a moving castle, opening to so many worlds, powered by a fallen star. And now the worlds are pushing in to break through the thresholds, slipping through the cracks, pouring their eternities within the limitations of my human language -- a poem, a painting, a story disguised as fantasy -- willing to be contained and constrained for the tiniest chance to exist into visibility. (For isn’t this at the heart of all our desires? To be visible, to be manifest, to be seen. And sometimes, or often, it is not so much about being seen by everyone, but about being seen by just one, who will acknowledge our presence, recognise our meaning, and in the process enter into us and into the mystery of ourselves that even we cannot fully grasp, but, oh to have someone who will respond to the echoes of our inner voices. who will pick up the nuance of a sigh. And we, in our turn, will also see and recognise the other, and dare ourselves to be brave, to leap into the vastness of the other’s universe.)
My heart is a wayward thing, a rebel, having gnawed its way out of its chains with the serrated edges of its various brokenness. It refuses to be caught, itself a fallen star escaping the sky that has been defined and categorised with numbers instead of stories. It doesn't trust me, the way I could never fully trust it, and thus we circle each other in a wary dance of an uneasy peace, with just enough distance between us to stay alive and yet also out of each other’s reach. It is always ahead of me, proving itself faster and stronger, and it has grown cunning in a terrifying way. It lays traps, and provokes, and seeds me with its discontent. (It carries a sword, and I have often felt the cold sharpness of a blade leave a trail of fire on my soul-skin when I surface from sleep in the middle of the night.) And yet it also, generously, and with undisguised motive, shares its joys and ecstasies without reservation. It wants to win me completely, and it shows off how much magic it can do, with the full force of its desires.
My life, my life is a divided country. And the longest war that could ever be waged upon it has just begun.
And just like that, it's December. Time will seem to hurtle towards the end of the year now. But lately my own perceptions of time have significantly changed. I feel that I have stepped out and away from the default track with its default speed. I am now walking or running as I pleased beside a moving train, unbothered if I get left behind, or if another one comes along to pass me by. Sometimes I am still, and I sit watching as a train rushed past towards a destination I probably do not care to see. Sometimes I walk away from the track itself, and enter the forest, and walk until I can no longer hear anything but the conversations of trees.
I have no thirteenth month bonus, nor mandatory Christmas parties. I occasionally miss the former but never the latter. I don't get a company Christmas basket with the requisite kilo of Christmas ham and Quezo De Bola. I don't do holiday shopping anymore, not for new things to wear as we were used to as children, not for gifts because my list has become shorter and shorter as the freelance years passed by (not only for reasons for financial constraint but also because people do drift away when you no longer see them everyday, when sustaining a relationship is now dependent on either or both of you making a real effort).
My life has become simplified, and to a certain extent my joys have become focused into specific things or experiences rather than merely being joyful in a general expected way. At the same time, these joys have become purer in the sense that they are of the same enduring things and experiences, and they can stand up to the occasions of difficulties to fortify the spirit. I do not coat troubles with joy, pretending that by osmosis the trouble will be joyful. Troubles are troubles. They may have their gifts and lessons to give but rarely are they joys themselves. They may eventually lead to joy but I have come to an important realisation that to get to the joy where they may be leading you, you must eventually leave them behind. Don't carry the troubles with you. And don't think you need them along to deserve the joy you will get.
In the past six years of being unemployed and having to live by chance and by faith, I have found a certain kind of peace that I never found when I was earning a regular paycheck. Being cut off from the mainstream of expectations and habits has its advantages. Suddenly there is all this space in your life where there used to be the schedules and demands and structures of someone else. Suddenly you are responsible for making your schedules and structures, and for demanding of yourself what YOU need and what YOU want. Suddenly you realise why for many people it is sometimes easier to just do the work for someone else because doing it for yourself is much, much harder. And yet, if you are able to find the way to work for yourself, you find that you will never simply be another person's or a company's tool for their own purposes. You will find that you are capable of negotiating for fair partnerships, and that this applies not just in work but in personal life as well. And thus I have found a kind of peace that is rooted in being in harmony with myself and what I need and what I do for myself.
This is not selfishness. I have wrestled with that for a very, very long time, along with the guilt. But what I learned is this: the only way I can give the best of myself is when I am the best of myself. And I can only be that if I take care of what I need to become that. By this I mean becoming what makes me alive and what makes me engage with the world with kindness and generosity, what makes me yearn towards life and growth and continuous change for the better. Only I can know what that is for me. Only you can know yours. How do you know? What makes your heart beat fast, fill you with the urge to move and to create and to make something of yourself beyond what you are now? What makes you want to expand to embrace all of life? What fills you up with hope and possibility? I realise that when I attuned my life and my daily living to this, I found that I still have, and will always have, the capacity to grow and become something more than what I am now, despite how old I am, or how much weight I've gained, or how many silver hairs I've turned (and for that matter, how much or little money I actually have in my bank accounts).
In the past two years, having become a much better and truer version of myself, I realise that I have brought light, inspiration, hope, and joy to more people in the deeper sense (even while in the midst if being stone-broke), than I have ever had in two decades of being loaded with money and doing what everybody else did. I have given and received more heartfelt messages of gratitude, encouragement, and solidarity in the past two years than I ever had in the whole history of my life.
There are no limits, no deadlines, no end of the road. For my part, where I have found hard reality slamming me down with high brick walls or impossible obstacle courses, I have discovered other doorways instead. I realised I do not always have to walk the well-worn paths, I do not have to follow what has been done before in exactly the same way.
I woke up this morning from a long dream of disjointed stories, but across all of them I was in a state of traveling, and there were many encounters with both people I knew and people who were strangers and people who were a bit of both. I woke up and a string of words wrote itself in my mind : My life has been a constant state of stunted arousal. That will certainly be food for further thought in my journal, and I believe it carries a lesson that perhaps I am finally ready to learn.
Today I will work all day again on a dayjob thing. The stiff neck from yesterday has not gone away. It is terribly tedious, that dayjob thing, writing that report, then having to do the next steps to get the project to the next phase. And then another dayjob project begins next week, and it is a heavy one, and brings with it so many invisible strings and unspoken questions and a whole lot of pressure.
But today, strangely, despite the stiff neck and the dayjob deadlines and the fact that I may have to pull an all-nighter later, I feel a thrum of hope for something much more beneath the daily drudge.
Every day I make a choice to hope and to persevere, to be resilient. Sometimes I fail and I fall into the dark crevices of my terrible fears. But today feels good. Today I seem to have been given a boon. Today, perhaps, I have just a little bit more good luck than the usual. We'll see. :)