strong too long

red was the colour of your day
the undertones in your speech and the words that you said.
wet were the eyes that looked for an answer
biting hard on lips that tasted saltwater.
deep was the frown etched on your forehead
as you battled the pounding of your incessant ache.
quiet you were, as you sat in your place
while your soul exploded in your silenced day.

*

Dear little marionette,

Why were you so angry today? I watched you closely, as you sat huddled over in a corner, as if cradling your hurt. I reached out but your walls were too high. Did you hear me call your name?

No one knew what you were going through. No one, because… you didn’t utter a sound. Only your computer screen saw the real you, because each time someone asked you a question, you slipped behind a mask before turning around with the brightest, loveliest of smiles. It was terribly, achingly convincing.

You weren’t always such an actor.

Remember the time you were three, and life was too confusing to understand? You vented your frustrations with wild abandon, only to find yourself locked in a cupboard. They couldn’t handle you, so they put you behind doors where they didn’t need to deal with the tantrums. Is that why you now put yourself behind such thick walls? Is this your form of protection?

I would’ve admired your strength today, if you weren’t cutting yourself in the process.

But I’m glad you managed to gather enough sense to send a message out to a friend, asking for help. You didn’t need answers then… you just needed someone who would understand. Someone who wouldn’t judge you, but cared enough to let you be yourself. Those few minutes helped and when you stood up to meet your next appointment, you did it with such cheer, I nearly believed you were better.

Until I saw you between the moments.

You walked with the stride of a weary man, your face loosened into a frown.

And oh! How the tears fell when you thought no one was looking… but I was. And when you weren’t looking, I gathered the little saltwater droplets into my bottle. Every little tear that caressed your face before it hit the table, I found precious, I couldn’t let them dry up into nothingness. Because what you went through today, wasn’t nothing to me. No, it meant everything.

That was why I delayed you back in the office till everyone had left. I needed some time with you. Alone. Now weren’t you surprised when I turned up?

What are you doing here?‘ you hissed at me. ‘How dare you turn up?

I need you to understand…‘ I began. But you turned away.

I wanted to understand! I asked, but there were no answers. I cried but there was no comfort. I raged but there was no release. You’re too late.‘ You said, and I felt your pain.

I am never late’. I answered. ‘I was there before the pain entered. I was there in the cupboard with you, in the darkness, years ago. I was there alone, before you began to understand loneliness. I was abandoned before you were born. I am never late.’

You didn’t reply. But I saw you begin to cry again.
And this time, when I came over to sit by your side, you let me.
I entered your pain then as yours began to dissolve.

‘I know you don’t understand but is it enough if I do? Will you let me be the one to shoulder all that you’re going through?’ I asked you.

You reached out to hold my hand.

Will the day come when you realize how precious that one movement of yours meant to me? I don’t know… but I loved you all the more, when you were weak.

Because it was then that you allowed me to be your strength.

I will always be here. And I will never, ever, leave you.

With love,
The Dream Maker

*

JD Salinger once wrote, ‘She wasn’t doing anything I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together…’

I’ve been trying to be strong for too long. And the harder I try, the weaker I grow. I used to think that if I didn’t hold the universe together, no one else would, for me. So I held tighter to the strings, pulling things with just the right amount of tautness, careful not to disrupt the orbit of every demand, every responsibility, every role… until I couldn’t anymore.

But while the day was a tormenting one… at least, I have found a semblance of peace in the break down. Maybe my universe will fall apart, and maybe it won’t. But at least, I’m not alone.

[To Smiley: may you find your peace too, in being completely, entirely, unable to do everything. It is a beautiful letdown, when we can finally fall apart. And one day… we’ll have our wide open spaces.]

Advertisements

living | now

She lies there on her bed, in a room where all is quiet. It’s been two hours since she opened her eyes but she hasn’t moved, save to clumsily stretch out towards the bedside table, hunger propelling her hands to pick up a biscuit. It takes her ten minutes to finish her little meal. Thirsty, she ponders on her ability to get some water but she knows it’s not something she can do, not now.

Closing her eyes, sleep escapes her. She isn’t tired. Her ears perk up whenever someone shuffles past her apartment, but it will be another hour before someone walks through her front door with lunch. It’s interesting how the body becomes sensitive to the slightest pressure, when forced to keep to one position for long periods of time…

She thinks about the pain. It’s a welcome relief from the tormenting thoughts that demand entrance into her mind. Not much longer… she tells herself. I can wait. I can do this.

*

‘I’m flying back to Japan tonight,’ Mother said to me.

‘What time’s your flight?’ I didn’t need to ask why. I already knew. Still, this was a departure grossly accelerated.

‘10.45pm. Enough time to head home after work, pack, and reach the airport for check-in.’

Earlier that morning, Mother told me that an email had arrived from Obachan’s care manager. Obachan lives in an elderly care estate and while it’s stipulated in their contract that all occupants must be able-bodied, Obachan was completely immobile. Two weeks ago, she hurt her back and since then, had been confined to her bed.

‘Why won’t she hire a full-time nurse?’ I asked.

‘She’d rather be alone than to have a stranger in her apartment the whole day. She’s obstinate that way.’

Obachan did have a full-time helper for a while, but a week ago, fired her. They had been quarreling and she was tired of being told what to do.

‘She’s only comfortable with a nurse coming in at lunch and dinner, for an hour each visit. That’s barely enough time to feed her, clean her and tidy things up.’ Mother sighed. ‘And this morning, the care manager wrote to me saying that it seems she’s starting to become a little delusional. Can you imagine lying there for the whole day? Unable to do anything but think? Anyone in her position would start having weird thoughts. And she’s talking about darkness and oppression, being unable to breathe at night…’

‘When will you be back?’ I asked.

‘A week later. I’m just hoping to help get her eating again and well enough to manage things on her own… at least till I return to take care of her for good.’

I nodded, refusing to let the tears fall.

But after Mother left, I did cry.

For my grandmother who’s fighting for her life.
For my mother who’s trying to stay strong and positive.
And for me who’s trying to say goodbye.

*

‘I’m not ready for this,’ I marched up to the Dream Maker. ‘Seriously, this is all too rushed!’

I had plans to visit Obachan, to take her stories and document them down in a book for our future generations. These were stories that needed to be told – stories of her courage and commitment, of living through the war and raising up a family amidst poverty, of a life that today, doesn’t exist anymore – there is still so much to learn from her. And I wanted her to see that.

I didn’t have the chance to celebrate Mother’s birthday either. We were planning on taking her out with the family to do everything that she wanted to do…

‘What is going on?’ I sobbed angrily.

‘Are you crying for yourself or for them?’ He asked.

‘For all of us! We had plans… but now, it feels as though we’re barely able stay above the tidal waves, there’s no chance to breathe in deep nor think clearly…’

‘There is only now.’ He replied. I glared at Him in frustration. What kind of one-liner was that?

‘You are angry because the future doesn’t line up with your plans. You feel guilty because you know you could have done more in the past. But both don’t exist. And that’s why you’re frustrated. You aren’t where you’re supposed to be.’ He continued.

‘Now? And what can I do with now?’ I shot back.

‘What would you do, if that’s all you have?’ He asked.

I kept quiet. I thought about the Mother… perhaps she’d appreciate it if I sent her an encouraging email. And grandmother? I could do a video recording of the family telling her she was in our prayers… that we loved her and were looking forward to seeing her get better.

‘The future is for Me to handle…’ the Dream Maker said. ‘It’s what I’m here for. And I am faithful.’

For a split-second, I thought I saw a fiery glint in His eyes. Then bowing my head, I nodded.

*

‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.

But the greatest of these… is love.’

– 1 Corinthians 13:13

 

hating & loving. me.

I hate it when I lose it.

I hate it when I behave in the precise manner I dislike being treated.

I end up hating myself.

*

Today, I lost it – straddled between managing the schedule (we were one hour behind time) and cramming in as much cues and lyrics as I could into my puny mind, before the start of the event. I didn’t think I was actually stressed out but I was. When the furor of the rush died down, sometime before the event began, I walked over to Scooter Girl.

‘Hey, I’m really sorry for responding to you that way,’ I said. ‘It was inappropriate of me.’

She shook her head and murmured, ‘It’s okay.’ But I knew deep inside, it wasn’t.

I felt like a huge, deep sigh. I’d hurt someone with my emotional outburst. I’ve got to make amends somehow…

*

Why do we treat people the same way we dislike being treated, when we’re pushed in a corner? It’s really a case of the things I want to do, I don’t. And the things I don’t want to do, I do. What a massive conflicting state. I see some people around me who are constantly wrapped in love. They do wonderful, little things that touch lives and always seem to able to reach out to those who pass by, if only to bring a little sparkle into their mundane day.

I want that.

I want to sprinkle a little stardust into the lives of the people around me so that when they walk away, they’re shining.

Tormenting myself just as the day ends won’t help matters though. Tomorrow is a clean slate, one upon which I’ll write a new story. I’ll try.

*

‘I don’t like me,’ I complained to the Dream Maker.

‘When you look at yourself under such microscopic lenses, who do you see?’ He asked.

‘I see a girl who tries… but is always falling short,’ I said.

‘Do you see Me?’ He cupped my face in His hands.

‘You?’ I shook my head, but I knew where He was going with this.

‘You no longer exist, I do. Can you see Me in you?’ He pressed on.

‘Well… sometimes, I forget…’

‘All things old have passed away, I’ve made you new. All that you are, is now wrapped up in all that I am. Who am I?’ He smiled.

‘You’re everything I want to be,’ I began.

‘Ah, but you already are that person,’ He interrupted me. ‘You only forget. When you stop seeing Me, you’ll only see all that you are. But that’s a shadow of things that have passed.’

*

I think I’ll buy Scooter Girl a peanut butter chocolate bar. I heard that’s her favourite.

countdown… to all things new

36 more hours to go before I leave for two weeks out in the mountains of Kathmandu.

This will be my first official ‘solo’ trip away from family and friends. While I am excited about all that I will experience for the first time, I am also apprehensive. I’m not quite sure what to expect.

When I traveled in Japan on my own last year, I still had my umbilical cord plugged into cyberspace. Reaching loved ones, answering work emails and staying ‘social’ kept me from feeling lonely. But out there trekking, I’ll be leaving it all behind and will only carry my trusty iPod, a journal and a pencil. At least, I’ll still have words. Will I miss people desperately? How will the world (as I’ve known it) look different when I return? Will my person change?

For the regular traveler, my questions may seem way too cautious and worry-filled but bear in mind… the places I’ve been too have always been swamped with familiar faces. Yes, even in Australia, Japan, Malaysia… there were always people I knew.

This trip was birthed out of a desire to get away from it all, to return to solitude and anonymity… something I’ve not had in a very long time, and I am really looking forward to it. Just so happened that I watched the following video (it’s adorable!) last night and chuckled to myself. How apt…

*

18 more days to go before I turn a year older.

I didn’t plan it this way but it’s nice to know that I’ll be returning two days before my birthday. I think, on hindsight, this trip was really the best way of celebrating the close of yet another birth year. What better way to seal personal growth and survival with a trip that I’ve not done before? As usual, I began thinking back about the past 300+ days and asked…

What did I learn about myself this year?

1. I actually love peanut butter.
2. I can face the world sweaty, grimy and make-up free… without an ounce of self-consciousness.
3. I can survive extreme fatigue, pain, loneliness and emptiness. With a smile.
4. I love running on trails more than pavements or tracks.
5. I’m not superwoman and I need friends & support. Goodbye selfish pride.

What did I do for the first time since my last birthday?

01. I ran my first 10km race. And I wasn’t last.
02. I got inked. Twice.
03. I traveled on my own. Well, at least I will be, soon.
04. I joined the local gym and began working out regularly.
05. I said, ‘No, I don’t think I can cope.’
06. I began eating healthily, three meals a day!
07. I wore a gown, on stage, in front of thousands, to sing.
08. I grew honest with my darkness, and in that, found freedom to be myself. Almost.
09. I wore trekking shoes to work and braved the snide comments. Ha!
10. I finally began doing things for myself. Just because. Without feeling guilty.

All in all, it’s been a good year.

And for that, I am profoundly grateful.

*

3 more months to go before the end of the year 2010.

Taking time to scroll through my writing (which I began regularly updating in April), I decided instead to frame my moments with music. It has, I believe, the power to re-fire memories in way that words sometimes can’t.

To Build A Home – The Cinematic Orchestra

In the pitch-dark performance studio, Patrick Watson painted a beautiful room of vulnerability, intimacy and safety, using only his weightless tenor vocals and piano. And in those few minutes alone, gave meaning to 2010. I walked away with a new desire to re-create that moment, this home every single day of my life, and for the many who come my way.

Let all that we pretend to be fade into the darkness… as we find beauty in who we truly are.

Holy – Jesus Culture

Again, it was the abandon with which Kim Walker sang that reached deep inside me, that taught me how I too, can be open about what’s in my heart when I sing. Each time this year I ran dry and wondered if I should quit… I picked up their album and listened. They are still on my playlist and I return, with regularity, almost every other week, to get re-ignited inside with their music.

Wonderful Life – Hurts

I have no idea where they’re placed on the scenester’s radar but when their album came out, I was on a blissful high for a long time. ‘Don’t let go, never give up, it’s such a wonderful life…’

They reminded me to smile.

Unredeemed – Selah

The words to this song was what struck me, when I first listened to some friends perform if last week. It felt as though someone had peered into my heart, penned down my questions and revealed it all for the world to see.

‘Life breaks and falls apart, but we know these are places where grace is soon to be so amazing. It may be unfulfilled, it may be unrestored, but when anything that’s shattered is laid before the Lord… just watch and see, it will not be unredeemed.’

It might be best to listen to it on your own below, and hear the story behind it all.

*

We sat there, side by side, contented just to be together. I leaned my head on His shoulder, closing my eyes…

‘What are you thinking?’ He asked.

‘You already know, so why do you ask?’ I looked up at Him.

‘I like to hear your voice,’ He smiled at me.

‘Well… I’m thinking about a year that’s gone by, and how each time I thought darkness felt overwhelming… those were just moments before the sun broke through,’ I reached out to hold His hand, ‘You were there every step of the way, always ready to hold me, to receive me, even at my ugliest. Thank You…’

‘No, thank you,’ He whispered.

‘For what?’ I said, ‘I didn’t give you anything!’

‘Yes you did,’ He reached out to hold me, ‘You gave meaning to what I did. You allowed me in to a place that no other person has ever been. You let me be your everything… and that is precious.’

We didn’t talk much after that, the Dream Maker and I. There was no need to.

We had everything we wanted right then and there.

medication

‘Did I tell you that I was admitted to the mental hospital twice?’ Jay said to me, twisting a tissue between her fingers. ‘The first time I was admitted, it came after a spending spree. Apparently, I had taken all my credit cards and bought so many items I maxed out all my cards but when I returned home to my husband, I couldn’t remember what I’d bought. I had nothing in my hands. They say I gave the items to random strangers on the street.’

‘What’s wrong? What did the doctors say?’ I tried my best to keep my face from showing any outward shock. She looked so empty, devoid of all the cheer I once knew her to have in vast amounts.

‘They say I am bipolar and when I’m happy, I go berserk spending loads of money. And when I get depressed, I hide from the world because I think someone is out there, coming after me.’ Jay looked at me and smiled wistfully, ‘I can’t remember how it feels to be unafraid.’

‘Why did you enter the hospital again?’ I reached out to hold her hand, ignoring the shredded tissue on the table between us.

‘I had been on prescribed medication for months and was feeling good. Stable. So I thought maybe, I was fully recovered and so stopped taking the medication. Not a good idea. The wild mood swings hit me again and when I began crying in class in the middle of teaching a lesson, they put me back into the hospital again.’

‘Why did you stop taking the medication? I take vitamins every day… it’s just routine,’ I tried my best to empathize with her but honestly, I couldn’t begin to fathom the depth of her struggle.

‘As long as I’m taking the medication…’ Jay took a deep breath to still her shaky voice, ‘I can’t have children. I’ve been married for three years now and all I dream of is holding a baby in my arms, and I can’t. I hate the fact that I’m dependent on medication to keep me normal,’ she gave me a sardonic smile.

‘Do you have any idea what it’s like to practice being normal?’ Jay leaned forward and stared at me, ‘I need to force myself out of my house to take a walk around the neighbourhood. Every person I meet is like the enemy, and to overcome this fear, I get out, walk for a bit and run home. I do this every day, while I wait to fully recover from this madness.’

She sat back and sipped her tea. Cocking her head to one side, she smiled.

‘I’m better now so don’t worry. I just need to wait for the day I’m fully recovered… the day when I can be stable without ever needing those damn pills. Maybe then, I can start living life again.’

*

How different am I from Jay?

Every single day, there are certain things I need that help me get through the day feeling, well… normal. I start my mornings with a hunger as I open my box filled with letters from the Dream Maker. Reading them and spending some time listening to Him talk takes me into the happy zone.

Recently though, I’ve been careless with my time and negligent with my ‘medication’. While I can’t understand my change in attitude, I see its effects on my emotions – they swing wildly from anger, depression, hurt to apathy.

‘Just pick up the letters and read them,’ I chide myself as I stare at the box of letters. Oddly, I put it down and walk away, only to face a day battling shadows that I don’t need to fight.

It’s plain dumb, stupid really.

*

‘Though I have a broken heart
I’m too busy to be heartbroken
There’s a lot of things that need to be done
Lord I have a broken heart

Though I have a broken dream
I’m too busy to be dreaming of you
There’s a lot of things that I gotta do
Lord I have a broken dream

I’ve been told that this will heal, given time…

– Spiritualized

‘Are you angry with me?’ His quiet voice startles me a little. I didn’t even notice Him coming to sit by my side, that was how consumed I was with my internal battles.

‘Angry? No…’ I shake my head.

‘Don’t lie to me, I can see right through you,’ He replies with a tinge of sadness.

‘I’m not angry, well, at least I don’t think it’s with you,’ I sigh. ‘I’m just tired…’

‘I saw a tear fall while you were asleep,’ He put His arm around me, ‘And I know why.’

‘Can you be faithful when I am faithless? Loving when I am hateful?’ I said, trying to keep the edginess from my voice, ‘Can you see me beautiful when I turn ugly? Will you make it all work out when I wonder if I’m doing all I can to destroy it?’

I was hoping to push Him away with my extremities and at the same time, longing for Him to prove that nothing will change the way He was holding me in His arms.

‘If you will let go of all that’s in your hands, and let me hold you in mine, I will change your world,’ He says with an urgency I haven’t heard before. ‘Look at me.’

I lift my bowed head and turn to look at Him.

‘That’s faith. All you need is to know and understand that I am the Dream Maker – the Maker and fulfillment of every desire in you. I made you, how can I do anything but love you? I see into you and whatever you choose to dress yourself in, dirty yourself with, doesn’t matter to me. I am looking into your heart.’

He opens His hands and spreads mine in His.

‘My hands are bigger than yours. You can try to work destruction, either purposefully or carelessly but My hands will always be bigger than yours. The world I can create from your mess will be far more astounding than any crap you give me. Can’t you see it? I am passionate about you.’

He takes the box of letters and places them in my hands.

‘How you feel on your journey – pain or joy – will be dependent on what you choose to fill your mind with. It doesn’t change its outcome. I’ve already written your story. And it’s good. One of the best, really…’ He smiles as He leans over, kisses my forehead and stands up.

‘I made my choice to believe in you. Now you choose what you want to believe.’

*

After He walked away, I sat there holding the box and bowed my head. Then very tentatively, I opened it, took out the first letter and began reading.

flat on my back

Damn. This cannot be happening again.

I squeezed my eyes shut. I turned to my side. I fluffed the pillows. I did everything I could but nothing helped. I was wide awake again, sleepless. And so, I found myself alone, in the dead of the night, answering unimportant emails and looking and reading news I didn’t care about.

I finally fell asleep at 4am, only to be rudely woken up by the Mother’s harried knock on my bedroom door, ‘You’re not going to work today?’

Shit. It was 8.15am. Work began at 9am.

And so began another normal sleep-deprived day for me, where I slumbered through meetings, audio recordings, script writing and rehearsals. It was very all very painful.

My schedule for tomorrow?

8am – video shoot
1pm – department meeting
5pm – site visit for research and prep for another video
7pm – meeting
7.30pm – meeting, which is targeted to end at 10.30pm

Some days, I feel like I’m cruising through life flat on my back.

*

‘And we will be ready, at the end of every day will be ready, will not say no to anything, will try to stay awake while everyone is sleeping, will not sleep, will make the shoes with the elves, will breathe deeply all the time, breathe in all the air full of glass and nails and blood, will breathe it and drink it, so rich, so when it comes we will not be angry, will be content, tired enough to go, gratefully, will shake hands with everyone, bye, bye, and then pack a bag, some snacks, and go to the volcano.’

– Dave Eggers

I breathe in tomorrow deeply, it’s fresh scent in my nostrils, the early morning air waking something in me… and I know, somehow, I’ll enjoy the ride when my carriage comes. This is my roller-coaster ride. And I’m ready for the falls, the climbs, the exhilaration…

The journey.

Drum sound rises on the air, its throb, my heart.

A voice inside the beat says, “I know you’re tired, but come. This is the way.

– Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi

It’s time to get embraced in the Dream Maker’s soft, tender voice, reminding me that as I sleep tonight, He doesn’t. He sits by me, filling in the details of all that I’m going to do tomorrow. He smiles as He reads to me, page after page of dreams yet to come.

Goodnight world.

May you walk in streams of golden sweetness as you cross great divides
May you hear the song on the wind that gives you wings to fly
May you wake with a smile knowing that you never walk alone
And stand in the promise of a life filled with the rainbow’s glow…

Because sometimes, the greatest battles are won when we are flat on our backs.