Asking for What You Deserve

It was at a Gloria Jean’s. We had a blueberry cheesecake and iced mocha to share — not that these details were important. There were other important things, like the imminent sob-fest I was entering.

“T”, I began. “I really think I’m going to fail.” The last word came out in a ragged breath, leaving my lips like rough sandpaper against the flesh of a baby’s bum. Okay, I’m being dramatic — but when you’ve worked hard all your life for an exam, only to be set back by a silent killer — not a fart! — an anxiety attack, you sort of collapse inside. I chugged down more mocha. T raised her eyes and looked at me with warmth.

“Look”, she said. “Whenever I pray, I realize that God won’t exactly give me what I want, but what He knows I can handle.”

I’m not a Christian, but those words stuck with me. My fork, clenched in a clammy fist, clattered on the table. Wait a second.

All my life, I’ve worked hard to juggle my passions and academic commitments like every other stressed-out student. My friends know of the extreme, anxiety-filled fits I work myself into the moment my work should count, and try to steer me away from reaching my limit so that I can go out there and get ’em, tiger!

But during that exam, my mind had gone blank for fifteen minutes. During that exam, nobody could talk to themselves out loud, much less me. During that exam, which I had pegged a lot of hope on, my mind had become a bouncing ball of nerves that wouldn’t stop hurling itself against the walls of my head.

But now was after the exam. It was over, and I shouldn’t have left the anxiety extend into a period of rest, where my mind should be unraveling itself and smoothing itself out for the next big battle. I’m not a Christian, but I could still pray and keep in touch with my centre and God, and at that moment when T uttered those words, I realized something —

What if we prayed for what we deserved? Instead of what we wanted? Because relying on yourself and finding strength within yourself is one of the most “preached about” lifestyles in this modern society, and working hard so that you can eventually rely on the effort you have put in is a wonderful way to embrace this ideal. I know that if I prayed for what I deserved, I wouldn’t be scared — because I had put in the work, and I believed in myself — I believe that I am enough.

So I’ll pray for what I deserve, and not what I want, because sometimes what I want isn’t what I need.

 

An Unorthodox Take on Taking the Risk

When someone tells you to take the risk, you usually take it seriously and think: What do you need to do more to step out of your comfort zone, what you need to push to redefine the limits you have set for yourself.

I’ve learnt that taking the risk can also mean stepping back and closing certain doors. Taking the risk can often be taken out of context, and in the context where I need to buckle down and focus, and learn to settle on a dream that is mine — blocking out those that aren’t mine — taking the risk means taking a step back, and sealing all of the exits.

For a long time, I’ve endeavored to take the risk by prying open new doors when opportunity came knocking, or biting into the apples that I was told not to chew, or cutting off a lengthier piece of bedazzled fabric than I need.

And that has been driven by two things:

  1. The ever-present high expectations of my parents, who may have accidentally nurtured the spirit of go-getting, regardless of occasion and regardless of my own limits, within me.
  2. The inability to recognise that some dreams aren’t mine.

The second point occurred to me when I was crying, and when I was getting tissue, and when I plucked it out of the wrong packet. My friend said that this isn’t your packet, and i responded with a oh my gosh I’m so sorry. Then she said well, you can still use it, honey, because you’re crying and you need it.

And in that moment, it clicked.

This dream may not be mine, but because I see others around me conjuring that dream, and because I am in the position of need — of needing an anchor, a dream to keep me going — I adopt some semblance of that dream and get severe anxiety trying to fulfil it. But I need to take the risk to shut that dream out and recognise that that isn’t my own dream, that I have my own dreams, that are waiting to be embraced when I am alone and one with my thoughts.

To me, the push-and-pull nature of risk taking is a valuable lesson that I have learnt, because I can finally acknowledge that what is scary to me — shutting other thoughts off and focusing on my own — can be something that I learn to conquer.

 

half-finished complete

He woke up to the news that she had jumped from her flat on the seventh floor in a central location of their nation. She was gone. What else was gone was an emotion — there was a notable lack of anguish surging from him; no tears and no externalization of the breaking of his heart. It was all just a blank.


Her face was blank. “What were you doing”, he asked. “for it to be so bad. This isn’t even nearly what I’d expect of you. Especially at this stage.” She had sat there, saying nothing. “I mean what else do you have to say”, he said, filling up the silence when she couldn’t. “You need to take a long think and re-configure; you need to figure this out.” She said “okay”. He nodded, moved closer, so she could see the silver on around his wrist. As he continued talking, her eyes trailed to the bracelet. She let out a sigh when it ended. He left, but not without holding her back.

“You’ve got time to change your Facebook status to sad: I wish I could find. But you’ve got to find it within yourself — you’ve got to channel your energy and find it within yourself and understand what is wrong with what you’re doing wrong. You’ve got to take the time it takes to make that status to find out what exactly you need to do next. Don’t just post useless, half-finished statuses.” When she didn’t say anything, he looked at what her shoulders said — slumped over, collar wrinkled — and left.


“Uh-huh.” He ended the call because she was standing outside, unannounced. There were papers in her hands. He surged forward and grabbed them off of her. “Hey, what’re these for? How was your day?” They’re synonymous to both of them. She reached for the papers and gave him a long, hard look. “It’s been okay. I’ll be going in now.” She turned to leave but he held her back. “Hey”, the chair next to them moved; they collapsed into chairs like stick figures. “I asked you a question.”


Her Facebook status hadn’t changed. He reached for his phone. There were two messages from her. “I won’t read it”, he texted back. “It can wait until tomorrow.” She hadn’t asked him to read it today, or even tomorrow, or even this week. It just had to be within the moment. She muted their chat. She went back to sleep, and wished for an iron to run its hot metal surface over her, and straighten out the wrinkles in their time.


The last month was okay. She told him that she dreamt — no, had a nightmare — of something strange happening. He couldn’t remember. It was whatever. She was okay, and smiling, and —

— nowhere in sight. The bandages had gone, given away to clear skin, but she’d cleared away from him. So how would she know that he didn’t know, that he wouldn’t have known.

The last month was okay. She told him that she had had a nightmare and the way she said it was as if she didn’t want it to be addressed, but maybe she did, but couldn’t find the right time to deliver the message to the right address.


“You’re right here”, he began, “so what do they mean that you’re gone.” It wasn’t a question; it was a statement. He wanted answers. She smiled, all happy, right in front of him. “Who said I was gone?”

He watched her sit down in front of him. He followed suit. “I feel like I deserve the answers, not you.”

“You said I was gone. You were the one who said I was gone.”

“No, the bloody head said you were gone. That you’d bloody jumped off; that you bloody died.” There it was. The breaking. He watched her watch him cry. It was a raw moment, ripe with feeling. Her smile didn’t fade. “It’s okay.”

“What?”

“It’s okay to leave.”

“Leave what?”

She pushed it towards him. Her phone. I wish I could find home. Their fingers brushed and he moved back, his feet shuffling back, trying to find a foothold a distance away. And then she was crying. “You should’ve known — that wasn’t what I meant. I don’t mean that it’s okay to leave here. It’s not okay for you to leave right now. But it’s okay for you to leave –”

He stood up and he walked over and he turned her chair around and made it face him; he bent down and he stared right into her eyes. She was looking at him, hard and long and a million miles away. “–me. You can leave me already; your duty is done.” He slammed his hand over her knees to keep what was there, there. She felt warm, too warm to be real. She was saying something. He didn’t listen. He had not known how to listen to her.


He woke up. He ran to the chairs. He took a seat. Not too long after, she joined him. There was no laughter in her smile. She handed him papers. He took them, and then he took the weight of her gaze in and leaned forward.

“I know what you can do.”


Thank you! I really, really, really think you helped at the right time. I think that you —

She had left not long after. He hadn’t opened the message. He woke up to read it but couldn’t finish it.

He needed to take the time to complete what was within. The damage was complete, and it was organic.

Upon Closer Inspection

There’s a jacket tossed over her knees, but her knees still feel the bump-and-grind of the table, the underbelly of its cold surface, gliding across her thighs. The fleece of the jacket isn’t enough to prevent that squeamish feeling.

She knows that there are wars and famine and military violations; heroes stripped of dignity because they’ve been stripping others of their rights, the leather of jackets meant to keep us warm at night hurting the hides of animals who remain put out like overdue carcasses in the cold.

But the noise is powerful. It’s not a silence but a single sentence, interspersed with cologne and the smell of something worse —

It sits hot on both hands of the teacher as he passes it, drapes the burden of this curtain with a final sort of “stage-close”, there will be no encore, there is only the rancour of the student towards herself when she finally understands.

We often look at the world through lenses of green or red — the rosy lense corrects the pain in our vision; we become overcome with gratitude for our plight as compared to the pitiful ones of children starving. Yet we sometimes don the green glasses and the cataracts come back; our sight is diseased with white spots and black spots and yellow spots and red spots, dancing all over the place like flowers in a pasture we find greener than ours.

But sometimes, we take both contact lenses and glasses off so air stings the naked bridge of our noses. The student blinks and tries to comprehend but all she can see is

failure, failure, failure.

There is disappointment in the self, in the heart, the mind, the marrow — then there is disappointment from the teacher, but then the disappointment arises again from herself.

Upon closer inspection, we all have problems.

Bursting at the Seams

I climb the beam, feeling the

skin of my toes brush against the wood

of the beam,

the beams of the sun hitting me

on my back shoulders

forehead bridge of my nose right down to my

very tippy-toes. If I walk the plank

can I jump into the sea, or can I find salvation

when my body skims the shank

of a shark? I am but a

drop in the ocean change in the weather the softest

hue of grey in an over-bearing thundercloud.

when the rain comes it pours down my face;

anguish cheats its way across the gradual

ascension of an emotional roller-coaster,

splitting my face in two already, so that

I am a crumpled paper-bag.

when the rain comes my face is

marred by a frown and the disease of

losing myself,

though I am so full I am so empty,

bursting at the seams,

walking along those beams.

We Suffer [PROSE PIECE]

Everything suffers under the sun. He already knows this, front to the window. Front to the window, looking. The sun dissolves in his face. It’s dissolving because it’s a star. It needs to die, destroy itself – right before it is reborn. He reaches up to grab the cord, the one securing the blinds — he drags it down. The blinds shuffle down; the sun continues to shine outside.

He’s too old to be looking out the window, spying for women who toddle with umbrellas hooked under their elbows; they don’t know how to use anything. He thinks about this for a while, turns the thought over and over in his head: they don’t know how to use anything. The blinds are open and he’s facing the sun outside. Women don’t know how to use anything. The traffic light flashes green; the women downstairs cross. He lets the idea that his son’s mother left them flit across his mind. He watches, motionlessly, as the women cross the street to the grocery store where they sell cheap cookies. He hears the footsteps of his son’s mother traverse across his mind, full of clicks and rattles and then there’s the sound of her frying eggs on Sunday morning. The cheap cookies were sold alongside the eggs. The blinds slip shut.

His son, perched on his knee, tears his gaze away from the glass. “That must be painful”, his son remarks, each syllable clouded and rounded with the innocence and naivety only a child can cloak onto his words. “What?” What is it that’s painful?

“The people down there. It’s so hot. The sun’ll burn them out.” He tightens his arms around his son. Warmth floods right into his arms, and they look out at the sun. There’s yellow, a belly-laugh-cheap-frosting-on-cookies kind of yellow, and it floods the sky like yolk in a pan. He moves to close the blinds. “I like eggs.” It’s a faint rasp of a whisper, but he can hear his son above the noise in his head. His wife leaving. Her coat slipping off the rack for the last time. Her heels. “I know you like eggs.” He presses the boy to his chest, runs a hand down his back. There was a faint golden edge to the eggs on Sundays, when her wrist twirled and he had her waist in the circle of his arm.

“I like eggs”, his son repeats, clinging onto his father. The blinds are closed and it is dark, but they suffer all the same in the heavy silence. It cloaks their bodies with the warmth that only a pregnant sort of pause radiates – an intense rosy-cheeked-blush, a mother’s overbearing, protruding sense of love, rubbing sorely against their blinds, prying them open, letting the light in.

He breaks into half, splintering across the silence when his son speaks again. “It’s fine if they aren’t fried.”

She knew how to use something, and it was the frying pan, and it was to fry eggs.

 


An original by Athena, Photography by Athena {Rochor, Singapore}.

New Coat of Paint

Outer order contributes to inner calm

— Gretchen Rubin

I know understand why they say that having a messy desk is the key to some form of disorganised, chaotic, downward spiral of a downfall –

because we human beings understand the world we live in by windows – our own eyes, our own sight – the perspectives that our position at birth and places we trek to afford us to comprehend.

“Outer order” can refer to anything: the coordination of your clothes, the colour of your make-up and nails, the unblemished coat of paint on your car, the pattern of cig-butts in your ashtray — but most importantly, it refers to whatever you want to. That’s the point; you have the power to organise whatever you want and clean up the messes you’ve made, in your very own hands.

I think that I need to remember that more often. I’m currently feeling a certain lyric from Hair Too Long by The Vamps: need to reset my soul.

There is so much that needs setting straight in my life. Besides the spoons in bowls of yoghurt and the papers on my desk or the wires protruding from phones and laptops in my house, I need to set myself straight. I need to understand how to prioritize, how to segment, how to live life for myself and for the people and communities I love and care about.

Of course, dreams are flexible and aspirations change — and that’s the point. While self-care can be practised and a force used to govern yourself at this point in life presently, that does not mean that you – we – are selfish. It just means that we’re acknowledging how to love ourselves first before going ahead and painting that love all over town, in large, broad, sweeping brush-strokes of paint, on the buildings that need a new coat of paint.

 

A Shut Down Necessary

Sometimes all you want to do in life is shut down. And I’m here to tell you – past me, future me, and present you reading this – that it is okay.

Actually, I’m sure you know that it is okay to shut down. I am sure you promote and perpetuate the idea of having a little time for yourself, or days devoted to vacation, or doing what you like – for others. But maybe you don’t do that for yourself, and that’s why you are in a sitch.

I get you. Because same. I’m feeling the lowest I’ve ever been since…my last worst-I’ve-ever-been, and that’s because I kind of have been neglecting the idea of taking measures to not neglect my mental health. Ooh. Double negatives and double negligence. That can never be good.

What I’m trying to say is: I tell others to shut down and keep their heart and mind safe in a small, calm, full-of-zen pod so they can find themselves and the energy they have again, but I am a hypocrite because I am not practising that when I need it. And I need it now.

So commencing Operation Shut Down for me is a good thing – not as intimidating or as foreboding as it sounds in type-text.

But it is.

Because to me, Shutting Down means I need an hour or two to drink green tea and write or get on a bus to look at gardens and architecture as they whiZzzz by. Shutting Down means cracking open a book and not poring over its pages like its a literature reading, but appreciating it for what it is first – delivering someone else’s story. Shutting Down means I focus on myself – while focusing on other things – meaning I focus on what I can enjoy doing, while looking at the broader picture of something beautiful – which is the something I enjoy doing bit. It’s a lovely cycle of therapeutic decompression that I value. That I do not get to do.

That I did not get to do last year. 2018 was full of moments which saw me picking up a paint brush – not a literal one, God and every divine being knows I can’t paint for shite – but a metaphorical one, and dipping it into the same pot of paint, and slamming it all over my being, to erase all the cracks that had formed.

I needed to shut down to glow from within, not falsely paint a shade of comfort over my peeling discomforts.

So I’ll learn to do that in 2019. It’s taken me so long to come to this New Year’s Resolution. But here it is. Shining in front of me.

Un-Mask Monday

“Happiness is not the absence of problems, it’s the ability to deal with them.”

The above quote featured against a zen backdrop of a koi pond on my Momentum dash. I was most obliged and intrigued to save this quote (by “Unknown”) because of the immediate disagreement I had with it.

Why is happiness defined by your ability to deal with problems? Why should your personal feeling of enthusiasm, cheer, energy and sunshine be defined by your capacity or intellect or capability to look at a problem and solve it successfully? Why do we always have to come up with the solutions for the dreary, bad bits in our lives?

After a while, I realized how idiotic I was being – questioning a quote and whittling its possibly poetic/romantic meaning down to some blistering line of a debater’s argument. On a metalevel of appreciating quotes, I was failing.

But I realized that I hadn’t overread – I’d simply skimmed the surface. This is a big deal for me because I overread and over-analyse about…say…everything…in my life. So discovering that I had under-read for the very first time (!!) was marvelous. And this feeling of deriving a truer and more fulfilling reading from my second look at the quote is as similarly marvelous.

It’s not about the problem that needs solving. It’s not about telling yourself that you must have the capacity to understand how to solve a problem or provide a solution. It’s about having an open mind in the first place to gain that ability to believe in yourself – that you can conquer the problem set in front of you.

Nobody really cares if you solve it or not. Moreover, because problems are subjective – and conflated, or deflated, or seen in odd lights, different lights – the focus isn’t on problems – it’s about gaining some form of general confidence or belief that you can solve it.

So this is my first Un-Mask Monday of 2019 – I want to un-mask or debunk my own disbelief at something, keep an open mind, and appreciate something from another perspective. And I now appreciate this quote, because it plants the seed of hope that you can be happy even just by believing in yourself.

ORANGECOVE: Officially Infinite

ORANGECOVE released We Are Infinite on November 23rd. This has been the only time I’d willingly listen to people drag out the syllables of the word ‘Infinite’, because ORANGECOVE does it hella smoothly – the song is one of the best chill tracks I’ve heard this year. Let me tell you why I’d want the moments I spend listening to the song to be ‘moment(s) on repeat’.

Did you see that lyric reference? I hope you did, because I’m going to gush about a particular line of lyrics in their song – as usual – but particularly more so for ‘We Are Infinite’. I found this bit odd at first: “This moment on repeat / As simple as it is”, and the reason is because we typically here people use the phrase “as simple as it seems“. However, after listening to the song thirteen more times, the usage of “is” is something that keeps the song’s meaning so unique and special. ORANGECOVE isn’t being merely descriptive about moments or times that appear to be non-complex; they feel that there’s something so special about those moments, that they’re constantly in these moments. It’s so simple, so easy to slip back into those moments, that it’s a thing of the present. It’s a moment that ‘is’ simple; it’s not a ‘was’ of the past. And the thing about that one line is that to me, it gave clarity to the rest of the song and its title. They’re truly feeling ‘infinite’ by having this ability to slip back into a comfortable, enjoyable moment again and again.

we are infinite

I adore this song so much because of the way the lyrics echo some sort of message or reminder that we can always have happy moments to remember, and be in when we’re in these very confused and frazzled states in our lives. And having enjoyed ORANGECOVE’s music for their pop-rock and punk pep, I love the way this surprising, new melody and voices of their quartet and their instruments meld together to create this precious pocket of space in my mind with the reminder that we can ignore finite difficulties, and live in those moments that make us feel infinite.