heroes/heroines

amidst all of the commotion i could not stop thinking – how. incredibly. brave. someone out there, one beautiful soul, is stacking even more odds against themselves in this already cruel world to just do one thing: live their truth. i did not know her but i could not stop thinking about her. is she happy now? does she get to wear all the exquisite things she wants to wear? has she found love? is she safe? does she have allies? a small, wispy, murmuring part of me hoped that she could feel my well wishes across the seas, and feel the warmth of my hand reaching out for hers.

i did not know it then, and would not come to understand it for years, but the truly courageous and gladiatorial were in fact all around me, even seated right behind me – earnestly, impishly, sullenly. i had thought i was bold and strong, but all i had to show was merely a skirt cut a few inches too short, a shitty attendance record, too many opinions and no scars from the coliseum of high school realpolitik. if ever there were emblems of privilege those would be it. and so today i devour book after book, biography after biography, photograph after photograph throughout history in a desperate attempt to be just one breath closer.

if i met her, what would i say? i imagine it to be like that warm and balmy californian night, trembling with possibilities laced together by the many, many words that had been roosting and nesting deep inside me.

i could do my part, by saying “actually, her name is…”

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writing

few things in the world center me, or help me see the world better, the way writing does. recounting experiences, describing moments, opening up thoughts in the most befitting of adjectives and adverbs bequeath upon those occasions an added texture, extra clarity, a bulls eye of an encounter. and to come across old words and be transported back to those same sentiments is almost like time travel – being able to see faces of loved ones past and touch upon forgotten conversations on forgotten sidewalks.

doing this 7 day writing challenge with my friend jason has awoken something deep inside me. i’d stopped writing for a very long time upon developing a crinkly paranoia and a sudden desire to protect my innermost thoughts. over time, however, i found that this has turned me into a grey, brittle ghost with no memories. an intensely private, amnesiac, constructed, grey, brittle, quiet, ghost. many wonderful things have happened over the years but i can’t seem to recall any of them particularly well – the shadows, the outlines, the details. and so saying – fuck it, it’s time to feel again – was a lot easier than i thought it would be, and much more edifying than i could imagine. this is our fourth day and our fourth topic, and i am already four days freer than i have ever been. thank you, jason, for layaning me – i am eternally grateful for that scrabulous game. thank you, blog, for still being here – albeit not mobile optimised and a decade outdated.

so what has been going on in my life since? it’s been about 14 years since the peak of pinkpaudom when i used to get paid for writing and had no shame prancing around in ladybug costumes and supermarket trolleys. i graduated college in one piece and am still somewhat healing from the experience. i miss new york tremendously but not as much as i missed malaysia when i was there. i work now in the company of my dreams with the best colleagues and team one could ask for. martian and kafka are each married now to wonderful people and they are doing very well – we are still friends and catch up occasionally. martian just reminded me recently of a bookshelf we used to have and wished he could have given it to a quaintly.net reader who said how much she liked it!

as for me, i am now dating someone who – believe it or not – first got in touch with me through my blog. yes, it is entirely possible to fall in love with someone who first only knew me as pinkpau and would sneakily read my blog in his college computer lab. my mother calls him cheerful face, which is really quite funny because he’s not really all that cheerful. the first name she gave him was pure face, which is also funny, because he really is quite pure and innocent :D ice cream, coffee, books, movies, long conversations are all still things i love. i don’t take as many photos as i used to though, and am barely on social media. the only blogger i still see often these days is suet li, who has just given birth to the most beautiful and perfect baby. it’s hard to believe i’ve known her since we were both 17, and even more unbelievable that she would end up marrying someone i used to have online debates with. on some lucky days i bump into or cross paths with some bloggers – suanie and kyspeaks while out and about, once kimberlycun, and sometimes fourfeetnine and boss stewie. tim 2, the “tech guy” from nuffnang, who i used to talk to about ad fill rates is now one of my best friends and closest confidantes. i wonder if nic chay remembers that i still owe him an advertorial. kenny sia’s second child just turned a year old. everyone is so grown up and settled now, moving along the vectors in life that they’ve carved out for themselves. i look back on old blogging days with so much fondness, and every day i am thankful for all the people it brought into my life.

and so with this writing challenge, i’m learning to discard mistrust and peel back layers of myself that had built up and hardened over time. i am reminding myself that it’s okay to feel and it’s okay to be vulnerable. feedback is good, dialogue is good, inspecting oneself is good. it’s seven days of sheer immersion into what i’ve been avoiding for so long, and hopefully this helps me become a 4/10.

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love in the time of covid

for some time, cheerful face had been suggesting we move out to our own place. we eventually found a place we loved, bought it, and left it in varying stages of almost-completion for a long time. “we are choosing tiles” became both the joke and the metaphor with our friends. there isn’t really a good reason for why we (i) couldn’t just choose the tiles – it’s some parts cold feet before taking such a big step and some parts me simply loving being in a house with lots of people in it and perennial chatter, hustle and bustle.

but then covid hit, and the pent up tension really brought to the surface some ugly facets that had been buried deep down. in tears, i told him we should move out or i would just not be able to bear being in the same room as him. and so we chose the tiles, furnished our new home in record speed, built me a bookshelf of my dreams, and moved in together. and here i am – writing this from our new dining table, which seats eight and that my mother loved so much, she went and got the exact same table. cheerful face and our old friend joe are just beyond the table, playing some basketball game on the playstation and they are both yelling way more than a basketball game should entail.

it’s funny but joe played a big part in me and cheerful face reconciling our relationship. for a long time cheerful face hated me and for an even longer time i hated him even more. i hated him so much, that many years ago i got on a bus in a breezy evening in new york city, saw him sitting in the back of the bus looking out the window, and promptly got off, walking thirty blocks in anger back to campus. we sometimes laugh about how this slice of our history is generally emblematic of our state of being – him blissfully unaware and me destructively defiant. and then joe sort of clumsily glued us back together, amidst some rock band and mentaiko pasta sauce.

completing and filling out our own intimate, cosy space in this chaotic world is quite possibly the best thing we’ve done for our relationship. selecting little imprints to make this space our own, having friends and family warm the floors and walls, feeding each other things we’ve cooked, naming our plants, hours upon hours of long conversations on the balcony, kisses in the morning and before we go to bed – love in the time of covid. years from now we will look back on this time and be so glad we did this thing for ourselves and chose each other above all.

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the thing(s) i left behind in order to move on

i have always been somewhat of a weepy human being. when remy the mouse from ratatouille was evicted from his home and was starving in the cartoon stormdrain, i cried in the theater for how forlorn and hungry he must have felt. when my grandmother accidentally cut a bit of her finger off while cleaving chicken, i was bawling and inconsolable for days thinking about the pain she was in. for as long as i can remember, it has always been a life of high highs and low lows, and tears never in short supply – both the happy and despaired kind.

but when my father died, it was like my heart froze over. in the years since, no sadness has even come close to the sadness i felt then. observing myself icing over is quite the experience – empathy feels like something i read in a textbook a long time ago, and nothing ever feels significant enough to move me into an emotional state that is even just one step away. it’s like operating in a very small, very low amplitude of existence. and everything just becomes fucking mundane. you’re crying over your broken relationship or your shitty job? try losing your father and not knowing if he felt alone, or pain, when he died.

this small steel ball of existence – it can feel good. for many years i felt invincible, like nothing could touch me and i could now move through life being so much stronger than i ever was. and truly it felt like every obstacle would move out of my way and i found myself being able to get anything i set my mind on. it was easy, it was ruthless. i was safe from sadness. i gave up the depths of my heart so that i could move on from the image of my dying father on the floor.

it would have been my father’s 58th birthday last month. we went to the temple and cheerful face made him a paper version of our favourite mobile game and favourite instant noodles, for us to burn as a birthday offering. the thoughtfulness of the gift moved me to no end and i secretly cried in the bathroom. the tears didn’t feel good – like a wretched burden of weakness i had to carry with me for days. and yet i cherished the idea of us sharing with my father these little terrestrial things we like so much.

it’s still a journey to find myself again. some days i am not sure i want to. but in the shards of a rare day that holds lovingly made paper gifts, resonant sounds of the bowery, a quietly painful anthology, some great pecan pie – i find myself remembering what it feels like to move on from moving on. and that gives me some solace.

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belonging

the word evokes in me a warm, enveloping sense of happiness. but if i pause to reach deep down, i can’t feel the bottom of the ocean beneath my feet. it’s almost like swimming in a lot of bliss and enjoying the sun on my face, but knowing that i’ll need a line thrown to me eventually. thoughts running through my mind on this malaysia day – what does it even mean to belong in this country? do i still belong? am i belonging less than i used to, or is this a product of cynicism and fatigue? my 18 year old self would never have let this happen, but yet here i am, wondering what tethers me to this identity of being malaysian. 

as i was moving homes and unpacking boxes, i took a peek at my old college admissions essays which on an impulse i decided to save from the recycling bin and take with me amidst old clothes, photos, letters and other flotsam from the past. the paper was old and yellowed, and the words on them brimming and feathery with double-spaced hope. almost every one of them was about what it means to be malaysian. i couldn’t help but marvel at how much has changed since i wrote those essays (how is it possible that tun m is now the darling of the bangsar bubble) and yet so little (can we believe that muhyiddin and hishammudin are still in charge?). 

so much of what coursed through my heart back then was political and civic. now, i think twice about whether to even write these very sentences. i say this a lot but my teenage self would have been truly heartbroken to know what i’ve grown into. it’s the same guilt i feel when i stand overlooking the glittering marina bay at night and wonder for a moment what it would be like to live here. 

belonging, i realise, should not just be about me belonging to something. it should be about the same thing belonging to me. and circumscribing this bond ought to be a profound, searing, forged-from-fire sense of safety and pride. i long for this feeling but worry i won’t feel it ever again. 

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