Friday, February 29, 2008

WhEeLcHAiR

I had to sit on a wheelchair. They said it’s hospital policy. Even when I could walk and the ward was just next door. I had to sit on a wheelchair.

It was an exercise in trust. A lesson in humility. A reminder of our human frailty. Sitting in that wheelchair, it felt like I was abdicating control of myself. I lost power over me.

Letting go actually takes great effort. You don’t know what will happen. You no longer hold sovereignty. How the next moment plays out is dependent on what the other does or does not do.

Sitting in a wheelchair was a very interesting experience for me. While I was trying to tell the orderly that I was fine and I could walk, a part of me wanted to sit on the wheelchair. I wanted to not have to think, not have to make an effort, and instead pass the reins onto someone else.

Paradoxically, I wanted to be responsible and yet not have to be responsible for my own life. It was a distinctly odd experience. A study in contradiction.

I didn’t know a wheelchair could teach me so many things.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

cLOtHes iN My WaRDrobE

I have a lot of clothes. Yet I don’t have enough clothes. It’s weird. My wardrobe is so full of clothes it is bursting at its seams. Yet I need a good 10-15 minutes ruminating every time I open my wardrobe door. And the strangest thing is, I never seem to have the type of clothes I want to wear for a particular day. Or, I’ll pick out something and see that it would be perfect for whatever occasion that was next in my calendar, and promptly forget it the next time I stare into my wardrobe in bewilderment.

Yesterday, I had a ballet workshop to attend. I knew that the concert hall would be cold, so I decided to wear pants. I have white pants, black pants, grey pants, brown pants, green pants, red pants, pants that have prints on them, pants that have stripes on them… and I was befuddled. It got a little worse when I tried to decide what top to wear. Long-sleeves, no sleeves, three-quarter sleeves, spaghetti tops, tank tops, tube tops, halter-neck tops, any top that matched the pants I was holding. By the time I came to picking matching bag and shoes and watch, I was ready to give up. It just seems so much easier to keep my pajamas on and crawl back to bed.

There is this inane fear of looking “off” when I go out. I have seen one too many fashion disasters walking around to know how humiliating that can be. And seriously, my sense of fashion only extends to wearing everything that are shades of the same colour. So a light brown top may go with brown pants and my light brown shoes, topped with my dark brown handbag and watch. Sometimes, I fret that I am too “coordinated” that it looks like I’m trying too hard. Which I am, I guess.

I have heard some people say it’s all about how comfortable you feel and how well you can carry off a certain look. So with my head held high, I am going to proudly march out in my pink ensemble later.

And stop to say hi if you see a pink walking highlighter. It just might be me!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

rESpOnsiBiLiTY

... basically all patients come to psychiatrists with "one common problem: the sense of helplessness, the fear and inner conviction of being unable to 'cope' and to change things." One of the roots of this "sense of impotence" in the majority of patients is some desire to partially or totally escape the pain of freedom, and, therefore, some failure, partial or total, to accept responsibility for their problems and their lives. They feel impotent because they have, in fact, given their power away. Sooner or later, if they are to be healed, they must learn that the entirety of one's adult life is a series of personal choices, decisions. If they can accept this totally, then they become free people. To the extent that they do not accept this they will forever feel themselves victims.

(from The Road Less Traveled by M.Scott Peck, M.D.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

CoNtRAdiCtioNs

I think best
When I am mad
When I am sad

I write my life
Into a zero
Into a hero

Days join in endless days
Sometimes I laugh
Sometimes I bluff

More often than not
I have to say I’m sorry
I cannot help but worry

I love the drama and the thrill
Turning a tragedy
Into a legacy

Bring it on
I’m standing up
I’ll not give up

Monday, February 25, 2008

LeARNinG

I am a great proponent of learning. Or something approaching that. I believe that our entire life presents us with endless opportunities to learn. It’s important to keep an open mind, I used to tell my juniors whom I mentored at work. Never stop asking why.

Yet I sometimes wonder how much of my own wise counsel I follow. It’s easy enough to learn new skills, like mastering Excel spreadsheets or painting a door frame. And it’s easy enough to learn things about other people – we do that every time we gossip. But lessons about ourselves? That becomes tricky. Especially when the lessons yield answers that are unpleasant.

I should know, because my friend just told me the other day that I am too proud, and my pride does not serve me well. And of course I became all defensive. Coming up with all sorts of reasons to try to justify myself. Who am I trying to kid anyway? If I look hard into the core of my being, I know all my failings as a human. The important question is, what do I do about it?

Learning is one thing. Accepting is another thing. But doing what you’ve learnt and accepted, now this is where it gets interesting.

fREeDOm

There was a period in my life when I contemplated the concept of freedom. I was all about Nelson Mandela and how he led his people out of apartheid. I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” with the fervour of some black fanatic.

I puzzled over which was the freedom that was most important. Freedom of speech? Freedom of media? Freedom of thought? Freedom of religion? I wanted all these freedoms. I didn’t want to be trapped by life, nor the political ideals of those who run my country.

Utopianism scared me, or rather, I have a morbid fascination with it. George Orwell and Alduous Huxley and Ray Bradbury and BF Skinner – it is as if you needed to offer up your person, your soul, for the good of some greater power as yet unnamed. I don’t want to be the black sheep, and neither do I want to be the sacrificial lamb.

Is it better to be happy and trapped? Or is it better to be sad but free?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

pERfEct CoMPLeMenT

Music and lyrics. Writer and artist. That was my dream for the longest time. I fantasized about being with someone who complemented me perfectly. Like he’ll compose the music while I’ll craft the lyrics. Or I’ll write the stories and he’ll render the drawings. A kind of seamless partnership. That, to me, represented the epitome of being together with someone.

Reality, however, does not come packaged in a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Or, it might be more accurate to say, we have the 1000 pieces, but we don’t know what the completed picture would look like. That, should not stop us from putting the puzzle together though.

Wonder, and see the freshness and the unknown and the mystery in your life.

Friday, February 22, 2008

sO ChOoSE

Choices, she said, are over-rated.

There can only be one choice, he said, choose life.

Free will, I said, is a conscious exercise of choice.

Our decisions and indecisions plague us every day. Every moment, we make a choice, or perhaps not. Things like breathing and blinking, we don’t really decide we want to do them. It’s instinctive, like how your knee jerks when you hit it at the correct spot.

While other choices are born of deep thought, of deliberation. Weighing the costs and benefits. Calculating the investment and returns. And sometimes, it’s about needing to make a choice even when it brings you pain.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So also every choice has an indeterminate and unpredictable effect.

Damned if I do? Damned if I don’t!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

LeT mE be BLacK, PoOR & miSeRAbLe

For some time now, I’ve been reading and collecting Maya Angelou’s series of autobiographies. I was mesmerized by her first book “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”. After that, I’ve been hot-on-the-tracks hunting down her later memoirs.

It’s interesting to see this pattern recurring in my life. I tend to very automatically align myself with some minority group (who may be misunderstood, persecuted, miserable, attacked, etc.) and take on the role of being their ambassador. It’s very strange how I seem to be able to take on all their pain and hurt and sorrow… like I absorb their very being into myself.

I’ve gone through the whole gamut. Once it was the children caught up in the Cambodian civil war, and its neighbouring Vietnam War. Then it was the intellectuals in China’s Cultural Revolution. Apartheid in Africa and their British colonists. For a while it was the black slaves in Southern America. Anne Frank’s diary turned my attention to Jews in Europe. Nearer to home it was the comfort women in Korea during the Second World War. I followed avidly the work of Mother Teresa in Calcutta. And countless other poor and broken souls, whose pain touched me in very real and disturbing ways.

Am I enjoying the role of the tragic heroine too much? Or is it just a means for me to seek some measure of love?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

tHe PHiLosOPhy oF HapPIneSS

I remember when we were in university, one of my best friends and I had this discussion on what is happiness. Of course, it should come as no surprise we were both aspiring philosophy students then. Our exchanges went on for months, even years maybe. We were trying to come up with a definition of happiness. In a sense, I suppose we were trying to figure out if we were happy.

We fought about the absolute value of happiness, and its longevity. We debated the real meaning of happiness, and at what cost to achieve it. I even came up with this grand theory that happiness is superficial, transient, temporal; while joy is deep, fulfilling, eternal. Something about a state of mind, as opposed to a state of being.

It’s funny how 10, 12 years ago, we were already struggling to find some resolution then, just as we are struggling to find some resolution now. Did we come to some form of agreement? Did we hit stalemate? Did we raise the white flag in surrender? It doesn’t really matter. We are still the best of friends. We still meet up for meals and go shopping together. And even though philosophical discussions are alluring, we have learnt to temper them with a good dose of reality.

Happiness? I guess it’s when you can chuckle to yourself in contentment, while the rest of the world is asleep.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

JusT dO It!

Enigma. Is the title of my diary this year. It’s got wonderful quotes from one of my favourite authors, Paulo Coelho. And it’s beautifully illustrated, in that kind of raw and enduring style.

On my way to ballet yesterday, I was thinking, if someone were to interview me now and ask, “Who is your favourite author?” I actually don’t have an answer. I can tell you my favourite genre of books – non-fiction – and specifically, autobiographies and memoirs. I like to know I am reading about some real person, although I question how much of that is really real? I mean, trying to put your entire life into words can only be inadequate at best.

Still, they draw me. And I’m always amazed at how people remember whole dialogues and exchanges that happened half a lifetime ago. Ask me about my conversation with my ballet-mates yesterday and I can barely recall the topics we discussed. So there goes trying to write anything about myself in my childhood years.

Isn’t it Nike that came up with the slogan “Just do it”? My ballet teacher likes to say, “Don’t think so much, just do it.”

Perhaps, I should go ahead and just do it!

Monday, February 18, 2008

SimPLe fAiTH

They light giant lanterns and let them float into the sky. They write their wishes on the lanterns for the winds to send them up to the heavens. Blessed with a touch of faith for safe travels.

It’s a pretty sight. Poetic, lyrical, surreal. Giant fire-birds that grow smaller and smaller the higher they go. Till the sky overhead is sprinkled with hopes, with wishes, with forever dreams.

Until the paper lanterns burn away. My wishes will come true like a phoenix that rises from its ashes. The hope that endures beyond the refiner’s fire comes out more brilliant, more intense.

It is believing that brightness will still come, even when all the lights are out.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

GivE iT tO me, NoW!

The 21st century of technological advancements has made us complacent. In a world of instant coffee, instant noodles, instant messaging, we seem to have forgotten how to wait.

Emails are expected to be replied within the hour. Phone calls are expected to be returned within the day. Reports are expected to be churned out even before the research has been done.

I figured, I want to write a book, and I’ll miraculously be able to write away and have a book ready within the day. I figured, I want to learn ballet, and I’ll miraculously be able to pirouette and arabesque within the hour. I figured, I want to draw, and I’ll miraculously be able to produce an artwork within the minute.

And all of these pieces of work would be perfect and everyone would “get it” and I’ll rocket to stardom within the week.

Of course, I figured wrongly. Writers, ballerinas, artists… They take years and years to train, to hone their skills, to consider, to ponder, to deliberate, to practice, before any decent result is achieved. And whatever the result, it is always never good enough. It’s always about trying harder and harder and even harder, to reach the stage of perfection.

Can I fast-forward to the credit roll?

Friday, February 15, 2008

aNd iT's GoODbYe AgAin

There’s a Chinese saying (I think) that goes something like, “Without the sorrows of parting, how will we know the joys of meeting again.” (I think). Or, it might be, “Every farewell gives us an opportunity to reunite again.” (Hmmm…)

Anyway, it’s about saying hello and saying goodbye.

Little kids come to mind. When they first meet you, all defenses are up. But once they start to play with you, they suddenly love you like there’s no tomorrow. My god-daughter came for a visit the other day. And up until the point when Mummy and Daddy said it’s time to go home, her sparkling laughter turned to huge watery eyes and a pout.

You would think that with age these things get better. Like after countless occasions to say hello and goodbye, it would become almost second nature. Yet some things just never get easier. And sometimes, they may get worse.

I’m still finding it very difficult to say goodbyes.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A cRisiS?

Every now and then, I am struck by what I call an ‘existential crisis’. The question “What is the meaning of my life?” pops into my head and blazes like the neon lights in Las Vegas, 24-hour hangover included.

I remember watching an episode of Alf long time ago, and he said something that stayed with me through the years. “… pondering the vicissitudes of life…” It took me a long time to learn the spelling of the word and to figure out its meaning.

I like figuring out the meaning of things. My species-ism rests entirely on the theory that humans are superior to other animals because of our meaning-seeking nature. I don’t suppose a cockroach thinks to himself, “Now what is the meaning of my harried existence, scuttling and flying from room to room to avoid being doused by insecticide?”

Generally, pop-psychology self-help books talk about how tragedy brings meaning to life, that people see the light when they have undergone some traumatic experience, that our purpose is to leave behind some sort of legacy for our progeny, that we find meaning in the little things that we do every day. Problem is, existential questions do not lend themselves to easy and neat answers. Most of the time, it’s just muddling around trying not to drown.

We live, to leave.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

oN My cHin

I have a mole. No, not of the animal variety nor the espionage kind. It’s a little mole I have right smack at the centre of my upper chin below my lower lip. It used to be really teeny. But I think it has grown (slightly) over the years. I mean, you can actually see it now in those photos with a relatively close-up shot of my face. I don’t remember it being this visible in photos of me when I was younger.

The mole is slightly raised. And when I am concentrating or thinking through something, my fingers naturally reach out to touch the mole. Even if it’s just a passing thought, I find myself unconsciously touching it.

The gesture is sacred. To me. For that, is my thinking mole.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

YoU & mE

I really like talking to you. Even though we met under the strangest of circumstances, our frequently infrequent meetings have allowed us a glimpse into each other’s life. Over time, I suss out what kind of person you are, and you figure out what kind of person I am. And somewhere in-between, trust blossomed.

I feel safe with you. So much so that I tell you my deepest secrets, secrets which no one knows. And sometimes I wonder, have you become over-burdened, have you gotten sick of me. See, occasionally even I get sick of myself.

I think in some strange way, you make me want to be a better person. For many reasons. I don’t want to be a loser. I don’t want to disappoint you. I don’t want you to call me a chicken for copping out. Because, you made me see that life is life, and sometimes, it is just about plodding along.

You’ll let me know when you get sick of me, right? Or perhaps, I just won’t hear from you at all... ...Hello?

cOCoNuT

I walked past a whole street lined with broken tree branches just now. While freshly-cut grass has that raw and green smell, just-cut tree branches don’t. Instead, they smell heavy, and woody. And for some reason, they look very sad. The trees no longer stand proud and august. The tress can no longer wave their arms and dance in union with the wind. The trees look broken, defeated.

When I was little, I loved to sit under the coconut tree in front of my house. When the palm fronds swayed above my head, I felt protected. I grew so close to the coconut tree that I can now draw them even with my eyes closed.

I remember learning in science lessons about the wonders of the coconut tree. The fruit can be eaten, the juice can be drunk. The leaves can be used to make brooms, roofing, mats. The husk can be used to make ropes, the shells can be used to make musical instruments.

I heard that if you were to become stranded on a desert island populated by palm trees, you could survive purely on the tree and coconut alone, as the coconut provides all of the required natural properties for survival.

Any takers?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

wHeRE aRe YoU mS. M?

There is a wildness in her eyes. She is bustling around. Her laughter twinkles, infectious. She talks way too fast, tongue and teeth and lips tripping over the words. You can feel the exuberance bouncing off her, shiny like an apple. This is Ms. M when she visits.

I miss her. She hasn’t been to visit in months, and I miss her. I wonder what we’ll be doing when she next comes. I have all these grand plans sitting on the backburner. Fun things we can do together. Great things we can achieve together. Moments we can be together.

Waiting, just waiting for Ms. M to drop by.

Waiting for Godot.

LegACy

"When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope still is to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here. It's a wonderful life and I love it."

(from It's Not Easy Being Green And Other Things to Consider by Jim Henson)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

ArE yOu rEaL?

Recently, I’ve started to notice that quite a lot of products mention the use of “real ingredients”. Like the milk I drink has this claim “made from real milk” on the pack. I mean, if I buy milk, I’m expecting to drink real milk right? Like what is fake milk?

And a brand of cosmetics is advertising on TV with the claim that their beauty products are “made with real ingredients”. Again I wonder, what are fake cosmetics?

Is the chair I am sitting on a real chair? Am I typing on a laptop that is real? That bar of chocolate is made with real chocolate right? Have you ever queried the reality of people and objects around you?

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you are a real person reading this.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

paSt & PrESeNt

Chinese New Year is a time of indulgence, over-eating, merry-making. It is a time of abundance. A time for families to gather. To exchange pleasantries and well-wishes. Another shot at making this new year right.

We kid ourselves that with the new year we start with a clean slate. Everything that happened before is wiped out, erased, forgotten. From now on, things will be different.

And yet, can we really leave the past behind? Without our experiences of the past, would we be what we are today? Without going through what we did go through, wouldn’t our lives now be very different?

A touch is a touch, no matter how light, and the mark it leaves is indelible.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

RamBLiNgs

I dream a dream of sunshine. I catch a glimpse of rainbow. I forget what makes me happy. I take too many things for granted. I have high expectations of the world. I have even higher expectations for myself. I glance past you in ignorance. I do not stop to help. I avoid the sadness in your eyes. I linger in your embrace. I hold your hand in gratitude. I fight to keep the light. I surrender to the dark. I feel fear. I fear fear. I long for your presence. I need you to keep me safe.

Take something, take anything. Just don’t take away your love.

i Am a WriTeR!

When I was a little girl, I dreamt of being a writer and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature (yes, I was that na├»ve). Because words came easily to me, and I had a good ear for rhyme, I imagined that great volumes of books would come flowing out of me. That I’ll be a published and accomplished writer in my 20s.

I did write, occasionally. Mainly when there were school projects or commissioned articles, or back in the old days when we still handwrote letters to one another. Which was when I realized, I probably don’t have it in me to write a novel. And my life does not seem exciting enough to warrant autobiographies (even though I have a drawer-full of diaries).

The writing process is a very personal one. It was not until I started writing this blog that I learnt how rigorous and disciplined a writer must be. Everyday, one needs to set aside time for writing. And because there isn’t a central plot or theme that has been developed, it is very much like groping in the dark.

Which brings me to the most practical of questions. What does a budding writer live on when he or she is embarking on their first foray into writing? Because writing is demanding and refuses to share time with any other pursuits, even making a living.

They say money is the root of all evil. Give me the money anyway!

Monday, February 4, 2008

fRieNdS

Today I am happy. A very dear friend whom I have not seen for months is back for the Chinese New Year holidays. And like all reunions, it was warm, it was awkward, it was comfortable.

Friendships are interesting. They make you laugh, they make you cry, they make you jealous, they make you whole. Friends make you feel loved, feel wanted, feel important, feel there’s a reason for your being.

And friends keep you safe, when all around you turns scary.

Friends, you saved my life, and for this, I am always grateful.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

foLLoW yOur NoSE

I am leading such a decadent lifestyle! I sleep when I want to, I wake up when I want to. I eat when I want to, I work when I want to. At the drop of a pin I can go out with my friends for a massage. Without second thoughts I can go on a crazy buying spree. Ask me, and I can do a movie marathon with you for days. Need company? I can lie beside you on the beach and suntan for weeks.

Without constraints, life is free. Yet a free life is also random and unstructured. A free life is chaotic and unpredictable. And without directions, it is easy to lose your way. Without the breadcrumbs to guide them home, Hansel and Gretel walked into the witch’s trap.

When you’re lost, kick your right leg three times, turn around and around, and follow your nose.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

rOCk-cLiMBiNg

Went rock-climbing with a friend the other day. It was not as easy as it looked on TV, and neither was it as difficult as what I imagined in my mind. You need to have relatively strong leg and arm muscles. And finger power too.

It is as much a game of strategy as it is a game of physical agility. When you are plastered against the wall, it is hard to see the rock pieces jutting out. When you are splayed out on all fours, it is difficult to reach out and beyond to that next piece of rock. In some strange way, you need to “plan” your route so you have pieces of rock within your reach at all times. Yet in some other strange way, the more you hang there and “plan”, the more difficult it becomes to scale the rock wall.

After I got over the initial shock of balancing precariously on just four small pieces of rock, it became more an issue of mind over matter. And I was surprised at how the body is able to mould itself onto the rock face like a piece of Velcro.

Or maybe it was just me hanging on for dear life.