I don’t appreciate why there have been such offended reactions to Marie Kondo. Deep in the throes of packing for my move to Frankfurt, I have found her show a delightful companion. At one point it had almost become a routine for me to watch an episode before getting on with the day’s tidying and packing goals.

First of all, there is the pure visceral joy of watching stuff get tidied up. I have always been good at tidying and loved the post-tidying triumph (starting is another story of course). My favourite part of the show is the before-after photo bit. I get the biggest thrills from the shelves and wardrobes. It’s also been great fun watching my methods get validated – such as chucking all the clothes into a big pile on the bed. I’ve been doing that since I was a teenager! Every time my wardrobe got too messy for me to bear, and I felt that usual rising feeling of almost-anxiety, I would know – it was time for the Great Sweep. Everything would go on the bed or on the (clean) floor, and I would sit there for an hour or two categorising, folding, stacking – is this more a work top or a party top? Do I want to fold squares or longer rectangles? Oh I hate sleeves!

But the second and most important thing I take away from Marie Kondo’s show is this: Appreciate your things; buy less stuff; keep a tidy house. Nothing so objectionable at all. Of course Marie injects some of her own life and learning philosophy (e.g. books are a reflection of our thoughts and values, keep only the books that spark joy, keep 30 books – I don’t know, I only watched the show and saw the memes)…but these are likely her own values, and not meant to be anything beyond guidelines. I think, more than anything, the show encouraged me to know myself and why I love the things I keep – and if I don’t know the reason at all, why keep something in the first place? (And then: Gosh why did I even buy this?)

I sorted my belongings into three broad categories – things to take with me to Frankfurt, things to keep/send home to Malacca (and likely preserve forever), things to throw or give away. Each object I picked up took me back to a different point in my life – I remembered how it came into my possession, where I was and what I was doing, my general state of personhood, whom I was with, so on. Some things I felt I should but couldn’t part with – my humongous stack of university hoodies, for example. Each hoodie bore a different memory. The one from Marriage of Figaro is my favourite. Not only because the colour looks a little like an elephant’s ear (white outside, pink inside!) – it reminded me of the first time I took part in an opera and properly took to opera music, and the first time I felt a real sense of belonging among the choir/opera community in University.

There were also many other things that had seemed precious when I was 18 or 22. But standing at the threshold of 30, they no longer meant the same thing to me, or no longer meant enough for me to suffer transporting them to Frankfurt or adding to the clutter in my parents’ home. My guitar from university is an example of this. I decided I would give it away to someone / someplace who would use and appreciate it, which I did just yesterday – to a good friend looking to practise on acoustic guitar. And then there were the old letters and postcards. These are things I had treasured for the words they held or the people they came from. But then I realise, now years later, that these were mostly from people who were still a part of my life. Or that whatever they had said was on-point then, but I had moved on and grown. I wasn’t losing anything by throwing them away, and in fact I had a whole future of postcards to look forward to. I gave these one last appreciative read, reflected on what I used to be and whom I had become, and then into the bin they went.

Marie Kondo’s show also doesn’t really tell you what you should do with discarded belongings, or give any opinion on how our material habits connect with the environment. I don’t think it was meant to do that. It could have, but hey, I really don’t think we should criticise Marie Kondo for not telling us these things. We’ve got a whole wealth of information out there to find out for ourselves. Surely it isn’t her responsibility, but rather our own, to educate ourselves on our place as inhabitants of our planet. At least she’s given us a great way to start – appreciate your things; buy less stuff; keep a tidy house. Most of all, know yourself better.

So thank you, Marie Kondo, for that. Just so you know, my favourite episode so far is the one with the two writers – just look at that mountain of books! I would have kept them all!

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December has been a much more musical month than I had expected. I had imagined it would be all about paperwork and packing, but then an old choir colleague texted about the Christmas concert, my German language teacher asked to help perform at the school’s Christmas party, rehearsing carols at singing lessons started going really well, and all of a sudden the year looked set to end on a much more complete note.

In fact, the months that I‘ve been on my little career break have truly been a gift that kept on giving. I‘ve found such happiness in pottering about, painting little landscapes and flowers on peaceful afternoons, building sentences and filling in the blanks in my German workbook, sitting in the quiet contentment of easy, affectionate companionship. What a joy it is, to wake up and not dread the sound of the alarm clock, because there are things I can’t wait to get done. What a novel feeling it is, to want to go to German lessons so much that I seek indications that I was not sick even though I was clearly coming down with a cold, rather than the other way round. At a stage of my life where work and work-related achievements are so deeply intertwined with my emotions and sense of self, it is a wonderful (and privileged) thing to discover what makes me happy and fulfilled and complete, away and apart from work.

And then December takes it up another notch by handing me all these wonderful opportunities to make and share music. Tonight, at the concert, it felt like a culmination – as if all this had converged into this single cosy hour of contentment. Ensconced in familiar voices, favourite tunes and black files stuffed with sheet music, we sang the most beautiful choral arrangement of Stille Nacht/Silent Night that I have ever sung, in a cosy little wood-panelled space with a low ceiling. Lost in the soaring chords, I felt like I was truly where I wanted to be.

And then there are those other Powerpoint slides to do, she thought as she waited for the green man to appear. Lunch hour had just about ended, and the heat of the afternoon sun hung heavy. A familiar wave of dread began to rear its head; here came the inevitable. She hurried up the steps onto the pedestrian bridge, striding absently past the durian cake peddler, the scattered clumps of paper waste and damp leaves… a snatch of singing drifted by, and her focus abruptly caught. There sat the omnipresent beggar in her tattered, once-purple headscarf, cradling her child. Averting her eyes, she wondered for the millionth time whether to put money into the bowl. But then her legs swept her forward, like clockwork, back to the office tower looming across the Klang River – another day, perhaps – leaving the pleading eyes, the dulcet voice and the empty bowl behind.
——
4/11/2016

I had barely stepped over the threshold
When the thunderstorm came.
It raged about most violently-
But I was curious all the same.

So I stepped out from under the shelter
And let the rain wash down upon my head
Then lightning struck – I fell.
And so I took myself for dead.

But with each raindrop that pricked my skin
and each clap of thunder that made me shudder
More and more I came to see
I was as alive and living as ever.

You know a beautiful chord has made an appearance when a hushed peace suddenly falls like a veil upon the room and comes to settle somewhere at the bottom of your heart. The vocal arrangements of Loch Lomond have many of these moments. Yet like other kinds of beautiful creations of art, songs like these often belie some sort of poignant history.

“Me and my true love will never meet again on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond” – that’s the line I’ve always heard and remembered from all the times I’ve listened to the King’s Singers’ Loch Lomond, and I’ve always assumed it’s a song about separated lovers. Sad enough, of course, but more wistful and yearning than tragic. Then the other night, I found myself fully immersed in this song for the first time, and was then moved to properly look up the lyrics.

There are apparently a few versions of the history to this traditional Scottish song. Most are related to the Jacobite uprising of 1745, and turns out the stories are really quite sad. The saddest of all to me is this one that is rather suggestive of Sophie’s choice (excerpted from Wikipedia):

“The Hanoverian British victors were known to play cruel games on the captured Jacobites, and would supposedly find a pair of either brothers or friends and tell them one could live and the other would be executed, and it was up to the pair to decide….The song is sung by the brother or friend who chose or was chosen to die. He is therefore telling his friend that they will both go back to Scotland, but he will go on the “low road”, his body being paraded along the main road controlled by the Duke of Cumberland’s forces, whereas his friend will have to head for the hilltops, taking longer to get back.”

Oh, how my heart aches now…but! Like any good old folk song (so I have come to discover from my excellent sample size of 2), there is of course a jazz version – a lovely chirpy thing, complete with bagpipe vibes, that one just must do the lindy hop to as one traipses between the living room and the kitchen. Here it is.

P.s. I would be remiss not to also share the King’s Singers version and this choral version that makes me want to cry, and then pick up a black ring binder and dive into a choir right now. There’s also a great arrangement by Jonathan Quick on spotify that starts with giving me warm fuzzy feelings, then makes me think of galloping about on a horse, and then finally reminds me of Vuelie.

August 2019
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