Of Ghosts of Lovers Past and Present

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Running away has never felt more appealing.

Seems like so many do it without any qualms, so why should I hesitate? Walk – no, run! – away from the disappointment of people’s duplicities and inability to be open and vulnerable in the truest of senses. Tell me, if pain is real and you fight to assuage it when caused by others, then how can you inflict it yourself so casually? Why should I be capable of enduring it, while others must be protected from it?

The double standards of human relationships confuse me to the point of falling numb, to the point that my brain shuts down: any logical thread to make sense of a senseless situation hits a wall of an absurdity that cannot be surpassed. So I slide down, back to the wall, and stare into the distance surely containing some sort of explanation that will be revealed to me, to clear my mind of thoughts of irrational guilt over nothing at all – if I only stay awake for long enough, try hard enough. Keep trying, always keep trying, as if I’m the only one who should.

Don’t ask why we’re guarded, us introverts. We feel in ways words can’t describe, so we decide keeping quiet is better than not doing our feelings justice with our misshaped words. We’ve got mail plate around our hearts because they’ve been bled out enough times over to fill a blood bank for a century. We tread carefully because we think other’s souls might be just as skittish as our own, so when we stumble into another human whose eyes sparkle at the same dorky nothings, we don’t jump, we smile wryly and pull them just a little bit closer into a tight hug. Be patient with our skittish soul, for when we’re good and ready to drop our armour, you’ll find a heart as ready to love as a teenager’s first fall into the whirlwind.

Of The Warmth Of Spring Sun

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Do you know exhaustion? Utter, bitter, seeping through every cell of your body exhaustion – but not from physical exertion; from too much hope and too much trust. Idealists have it rough in this world of minimal effort to understand, of curiosity in the Other being squashed under muddied trunks of baggage we drag behind us from frayed relationships with family, friends and lovers.

A year of trying, the same month lived over and over and over again, like an awful rendition of Groundhog Day where we all know we’re stuck in a loop, yet are still unable to escape it – it would take too much effort we’re not willing to put in.

Running doesn’t help, but neither does sitting still. Then just when you think you’ve found the way out, that ray of sunshine to guide you out from the fogs of winter, you realize you’ve been too greedy for your own good by trying to rely on outside forces to brighten the skies.

‘Smile more,’ they say. But smiling is a luxury when disappointment is the rule of the game and your heart’s been bled out more times than you can count. On an average day, you try to keep it safe by folding it in wit, irony and laughs that don’t sound quite like you, all the while praying to divinities you don’t believe in that someone will see through the ruse and inspire a laugh so honest that nobody could deny you are happy to the last cell of your being.

Of When It Snows

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I had missed the cold, and more than anything the cold of the snowy sidewalks in a city devoid of people running breathlessly from here to there, from somewhere to who knows where. The air goes still when snow falls and all that feels wrong spins on its head – can you honestly tell me you’re able to stop yourself from smiling when it snows?

A heart under the influence or a mind stuck in loops of pattern analysis – which is worse in this cold?

I’m certain we’ve all got talents beyond the definition of marketable or utilitarian skills. I make people acknowledge things about themselves and their lives that they’d have preferred not to confront. Not exactly an ideal one for winning the school talent show or the popularity prize, for that matter.

Bundle up, darling, this winter is just beginning, the snows are piling up and hugs are in higher demand than the supply. Market prices are bound to go up by the day.

When it feels like all’s been said about the pandemic times we’re living, still the penchant for musing isn’t something I can shake. I may not be original and my thoughts about what I want from my life may not be my own, but the grasp of telling stories in whatever form the day beckons is too tight and too gentle to want to walk away from. So I linger in this self-indulgence as if I weren’t aware of my failings and the mundane urgencies in my life which demand my attention and energy.

In grappling with the exacerbated disconnectedness of these eleven months, I’ve gone through phases. Denial and rebellion in the beginning, apathy and resignation in the middle, and now curiosity and a pull towards understanding, but slowly moving back to rebellion as the one year mark draws near. Hugs aren’t the only thing in short supply these days, patience is also harder to come by. Conversations are short and our fuses are shorter even, to the point that anything could be a trigger for the other person to either explode or retreat from the interaction. Both emotionally taxing for the person on the receiving end and probably equally painful to go through for the one enacting them.

I miss hugs and the festival crowds the most. Back when hugs were not epidemiologically questionable, they were catalysts for more acceptance. The crowds hypnotized by the same musical gods were bound to lead to planned or accidental encounters and to embraces freed of past and future. If it’s true that the post-pandemic years are expected to be flamboyant and filled with relentless social interactions, then let the roaring 20s come!

I Once Was a Child

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After Victoria Chang

In my grandmother's garden
I once was a child
and ate warm tomatoes straight off the vine.

I could smell the burgeoning summer's evening -
hot, humid, holy
as a child's birthday wish
to be no longer lonely.

A waft of Jasmine tobacco
drifting up from years not yet passed 
to yesterday to today,
turning the sky from pink to mauve 
to gray
and just a hint of come what may.

Of Soaring

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To take flight
requires
a full set of feathers,
shining silver in the winter sun.

For twelves moons,
the buttons you tore off my white shirt
lay on the table.

Unsown buttons
and singed heartstrings
whisper every night
of a summer that never came to be.

To the stranger across the table:
'Are the calluses on your hands
from heavy labour or
laboured poetry?'
Him to me:
'Couldn't it be both, darling?'

Of How We Keep Dreaming

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Today I put on a new wool sweater I’d gifted myself, got dolled up and met up with my blondie bestie for a walk through the neighbourhood. A reflection of 2020: empty streets; only the most essential of personal ties maintained with extreme care for fear of being shattered by inconveniences we’d have brushed off as insignificant under pre-pandemic circumstances; for (some of) those suffering from FOMO, a rediscovery of the value of depth to the detriment of wide exposure; a visceral pull to any reason for celebration.

Approaching the turn of years feels uncomfortable. We’d usually want to mark the end of December with a summary of the year that’s passed, make assessments and draw conclusions. I fear I might either be too gloomy and severe in my evaluation of 2020, or turn sentimental and weepy – I’ll do my best to refrain from both, but offer no guarantees I’ll also be successful in my attempts.

There’s no denying that 2020 has sucked (yes, I know the range of my word use can be quite spectacular sometimes, no need for praises). We’ve torn ourselves between basic existential instincts – to remain physically sound and functional workers – and more subtle needs we’d somehow failed to understand the importance of while the means to address them were freely available to us – to see faces and all the messy expressions we base our reactions on; to touch, to hold, to kiss without the fear of trespassing personal tolerance limits for the risk accepted in seeking such tokens of intimacy; to share meals, and walks, and music and dancing.

I have a vague memory of what keeping connections with the people around used to look like during my grandparents’ and parents’ time. From stories told around the table celebrating Christmas or Easter or birthdays and from memorabilia left over decades through time I’ve pieced together in my mind a nostalgic image of what cheer looked like. It was an intricate intertwining of the simplicity within reach due to socio-economical factors (communism was in full bloom, after all) and the creative spirit concocting new ways of using the available resources to turn the mundane into sincere joy. This year, under the forces of restrictions meant to protect public health, I’m seeing a return to the same sort of atmosphere of drilling for joy in all the places we’ve been overlooking – the simple, the private, the little routines, the forgotten hobbies.

I’m loath to try to anticipate how 2021 will turn out.

I’d be easiest to declare that I won’t be making any plans because they might be shattered to a million pieces as they have been since March. But that would be the coward’s way out. Dreaming is how we keep our hearts alive, planning is how we turn dreams into more than dandelion plumes floating in the wind.

Of Sweetness

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Every now and again, time turns into honey. It starts drip, drip, dripping and accumulates in pools of sweetness instead of flowing at speeds that escape our grasp. It slows down so that it almost moves backwards, taking you to moments you’d thought lost to your flawed human memory.

Do you see the night sky reflecting in our pool of honey, darling? I’d tell you to stop looking back, look up instead, but I can barely hold myself from reminiscing either. The calm you held in your breath was foretelling of who you would become even when you could not believe it and even when I’d lost nearly all hope in it.

Let’s make some ripples in our pool of honey-tasting time, darling. I’ll throw the first rock. Now shush! don’t break my focus, you know how competitive I get around you. Let’s see which forgotten echo of a story envisaged comes up to the surface first – we’ll raise a glass of tinted wine to it and hold each other to fend off the chill of this winter’s evening.

And before we let the shadow of the once dreamt dream sink back into the amber liquid, we’ll kiss the sweetness off each other’s lips for good measure.

Of A Shortage

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I’ve been trying to write for weeks now, but coming up empty again and again. It wasn’t even that the words were wrong or crumpled as they sometimes tend to show up to the party. When that’s the case, I just roll my eyes at their disrespectful appearance and scold them hoping they’ll be better behaved next time. This time, though, they refused to show up at all, leaving me with explanations to be handed out with relation to their truancy.

When the mind is in the middle of a months-long, multi-level rumbling, letting thoughts settle into just the right shapes and getting to a place of quiet allowing flow is near to impossible. When the background is a storm of scenarios being played and replayed at lightning speed, carving out the headspace for creativity becomes nothing less than a chore. We all know how much appeal chores have from young to old.

I’m trying to find that much talked about slowing down that 2020 was supposed to have brought to the world, to society. With just a few more weeks left of December, I’m yet to get my hands on even a modest stretch of it.

I wish I had more poetry in me, more fine metaphors, but that’s as much as I can muster to break the silence. In the meantime, I stumble and pick myself up, I fumble and share other people’s words and music while waiting for my own imagination to reawaken.

Of The Lyrical Quality Of All Things

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A glass of rosé. It wasn’t the best idea she’d had that day. Gone. That was fast, don’t you think? The second one’s already been poured before she catches herself questioning the wisdom of this road she’s going down. She’d kept away from alcohol for most of how long the pandemic had been haunting the planet, so her tolerance was not so surprisingly low. The nauseating sensation gripping her stomach was new though. Was it her age catching up with her? Was it her body spelling out the peril of opening up the floodgates?

There he is again. Strutting in her thoughts, as if he’s the owner of the damned land called her imagination. He holds her, in an embrace as tender as only a first love could design. Yet there is no design to it, only simple need. And his familiar warmth.

Words have dried out, like the gingko tree leaves on the sidewalk. The poetry of life escaping under the sameness of the days, she wonders where her conviction in better has run off to. A tropical island with calm waters and white sands, most likely. Or a cabin in the woods with a couple of dogs and a cat for company. Dopamine’s clearly running on low in some respects.

She falls asleep thinking about love. She wakes up thinking about love. It’s a simple thought and a simple need, it’s just that the poetry of it eroded while she insisted on giving her heart away piece by tiny piece. To find love would mean to fall into the lyrical ecstasy of an untainted heart once more – unguarded, hopeful, and a little on the reckless side while exploring the geography of a daydream.

Photo by Ava Sol on Unsplash

Of The Little Things That Matter

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I write. I rely on words to get my thoughts and feelings across and to make the story meaningful. I rely on words having power to effect change.

I know people are aware of the power held by elegant phrases. So why must we still downplay the power sharper words will have? What we utter carries weight which we throw onto others to discharge our own hearts of the burden. We should question whether that Other deserves to have such unasked for weight added to their own life’s baggage or if they can even carry it without crumbling. We should take pause before turning breath into words. We should be the Other while not leaving our own instantiation.

I’m guilty of this error in curiosity and understanding myself, of course. More than once have I believed the one in front of me to be stronger than they actually were, capable of fending off the rough edges of the words I uttered jokingly while unaware of the rawness of soul they were picking at.

I was told off once and waved it away with a ‘don’t be so sensitive’ (the stuff one hears time and again as a woman, so imagine my surprise when I caught myself using this same line to cover my own shortcomings). I was told off a second time and waved it away with a ‘you know I’m joking, you know I talk shit but don’t mean it, you know me better than this’. A third time, I got told off with my own mantra and felt the air punched out of my lungs: ‘please, stop. maybe you think you’re joking, but words matter and these words are hurting me’. Patient, gracious, he told me what I needed to hear to internalize what I’d been expertly preaching but not so expertly putting into practice.

The sting of these lessons is of a different sort. It triggers shame and it makes one want to recoil and cover it up. But working through the sting is what one must do. So I did. I sat with it, and this time it hurt me instead of the one in front of me, but it was a necessary rumble – as Brené Brown calls this process – to get me to the other side where I’m more mindful of the power of my own words.

Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash