I still remember how I first got into Joan Osborne’s What if God was One of Us. It played during Bruce Almighty, which I was watching on DVD with my family sometime when I was in my early teens, and I was enraptured. I remember being very struck by the idea that God could be sitting on the bus…just a normal person…probably on some mundane, insignificant errand…an invisible dot in the heaving sea of life like the rest of us.

Michael Cunningham said that “It seems that for some of us, reading a particular book at a particular time is an essential life experience… as the more traditional novel-inspiring experiences – like first love, the loss of a parent, a failed marriage, etc.” I know I am one of those people, except that I have a really bad memory – in other words, stringently selective. It’s rare that I remember, but when I do, it usually means it truly did mean something special to me, that it had left an imprint on me somewhere, no matter how small. With Narnia, I remember the imagery I drew from the books and built in my head so well, even if I don’t remember too much of the plot nowadays, because I am inherently escapist. I remember that better than so many other parts of my childhood that should have been more important.

Which is why I’m glad this Joan Osborne moment is still so clear to me. I am often assailed by doubt in the authenticity my character – my personality, my likes and dislikes and inclinations…I often suspect that I intentionally chose to be interested in things because I was trying to fashion myself into something I admire. Woolf is existentialist and feminist and abstract, disordered in plot, often amorphous in morality – the antithesis to my background and education. Fernando Pessoa pits inner selves with diametrically opposed views on religion against one another, which is very contrary to the generally traditional or devout Buddhist, Christian and Muslim communities I have known both as a child and adult. So maybe my subconscious thought it’d be fun to wave a flag about and proudly proclaim that I am impervious to nurture that I do not agree with now, as an adult.

At least I now know that some part of me is naturally, genuinely drawn to these subjects, and I’m not a total phoney.

 

 

I love it when I pick up on signs from the universe.

I’ve only just finished reading “The Marriage Plot” last week. There is a part in the book where, on honeymoon in Monaco, Leonard Bankstein in a manic stupor speaks disrespectfully about Princess Grace to the receptionist at a hotel.  Apparently yesterday was the 34th anniversary of her death.

Not ten minutes ago, Life on Mars came up on a playlist I haven’t listened to in a while – and today is the anniversary of the publication of that Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin announces to his mother his plan to run away to Mars from a world that is fucked up by grownups (his mom does not bat an eyelid).

I’m also halfway through “Germany: Memories of a Nation”, and therefore have been of late a bit obsessed with the imagery of solitary trees. And then it turns out that the first song my teacher picked for my first singing lesson is Ombra Mai Fu, an Italian aria about a beautiful plane tree.

Little recurring themes strung together by an invisible thread. Milan Kundera wrote about how human lives are composed like music – fortuitous coincidences, repetitions of motifs thrown into relief by a sense of beauty…but then perhaps common sense sometimes intrudes on that reverie and instructs us put a stop to it all, because life is, apparently, not a novel.

Maria Popova, in one of her posts and quoting various authors, wrote about why a writer should keep a diary – a diary that “nobody reads but you” – to capture the spontaneity, the honesty, the occasional idea worth expanding. For practice, I have a notebook I carry around to catch the fleeting snatch of prose I hear in my head, but I confess I have written barely anything worth reading in there, and the bulk of anything I write that I actually like ends up here instead.

It partly springs from a sort of vanity – it is nice to know people can read what I write (whether they do or not is a different matter – the fulfilment derived from being onstage is not always related to the number of people in the audience). Yet once I write with that awareness hovering at my shoulder, it’s so much more difficult to write uninhibitedly, without pit-stopping at every two words to examine whether or not my sentence is well-crafted. The backspace key is another bane – it allows me to act on my self-doubt and erase whenever I am anything less than satisfied with what I type.

I envy writers in the days of no self-publishing and no backspace keys, although I know very well that I’m making a scapegoat out of my environment and I only have my lack of discipline and my vanity to blame!

The other reason may be that it can be unpleasant to write down my thoughts in a truly personal space – I often don’t like what I write, or the process of writing it, because of what it says about myself. Often I find my thoughts too empty, too shallow, too boring, too angry, too depressed…and writing these things down in a secret notebook, seeing them articulated in my own messy script, is like a confession – it makes these parts of me real.

And so, unsurprisingly, my notebook is currently predominated by scraps from books and poems, sometimes complemented by my hesitant, one-sentence commentary, but generally comprising more of borrowed thoughts from other people superimposed on my life rather than my own. On the other hand, my own thoughts are channelled to my public blog, exhibited for the world to see – but likely after having been filtered down only to thoughts I am comfortable bearing.

Perhaps the idea of me bearing witness to myself is scarier than the world bearing witness to me…because to everyone else I am just another transient passerby (i.e. who cares what I think or am, really?), whereas I have to live with myself – watching, assessing, criticising – for as long as I live.

So does choosing to write in a public space make you more honest (with the world), or less honest (with yourself)?

 

 

What we saw of Switzerland was undoubtedly beautiful but came across as a little opaque – tastefully coloured patchwork of gleaming, impeccable, impenetrable surfaces, be it the facades of the Altstadt, the Alpine slopes or the aquamarine lakes and streams that
alternate between gushing from one precipice to another, or placidly gliding in the scorching sun. Everywhere one is constantly surrounded by relaxed, happy faces – no distracted gazes, no clockwork grey suits in sight. One climbs up the stairs to the viewing platform at Jungfraujoch, past the promotional posters of China’s Huangshan, and gets the sensation of walking into a virtual reality vestibule.

But then it is so beautiful outside the glass walls that it is easy to block the awareness out for a while – one looks down between the shoes, through the holes of the latticed floor of the viewing platform 3.5 km above sea level, vision diving headlong down the steep drop onto the snowy depths pockmarked with angry-looking holes and protruding rocks. One gazes beyond the cord barrier at the cold and barren glacier, arrested mid-journey as it tried to snake between the valleys into the unknown faraway somewhere. Dazzled by the magnificence of such rugged, dangerous beauty – one forgets.

Then the next moment one’s view is disrupted by a train of tourists parading past, packed snugly into quilted jackets – and one wonders, where and what is Switzerland amidst this perfection that was manifestly manufactured for tourists?

Oh! The rapture of seeing
ideals spring to life
In the blazing sun
so bright,
one is blind
To realities that wither
In the shadows behind.
But when one turns back
Ideals rapidly become balloons.
They untangle their knots,
Float into the infinite
Depths of the sky.

 

I occasionally think about what it would be like to choose independence. And then the years would stretch out long and dreary before me, and I would shrink back from the precipice. It is not company I want, yet it is loneliness I fear. I pull myself out of the bubble, chiding myself that I am indulging in overwrought drama again… I cannot escape from what I essentially am, a woman raised with practical Asian sensibilities, from a country with a non-existent social safety net, who coos over toddlers…and when my flights of fancy have finally screeched to a halt, that, and regret, will come into sharp relief. How does one know what is ‘essentially’ one or not? What is euphoria and what is contentment? Is youth a time of erratic, temporary dreams, or is it uninhibited glorying in what is real about yourself that is eventually stamped out with age?

___

From Maria Popova’s blog:

“If it seems to you that I move in a world of certitudes, you, par contre, must benefit from the great privilege of youth, which is that you move in a world of mysteries. But both must be ruled by faith.” – Anaïs Nin

Landscapes

Imaginary

May

Minute after minute, and no stillness in between.

September 2016
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