Sometimes when I put on songs I fell in love with a long time ago but have not listened to in ages, I feel a visceral need to dance, laugh, cry. One at a time or all at once.

I drop into the murky depths of my memories, sometimes too vague to recall exactly. The most tangible thing that comes to me is this feeling, this welling up of…something, that consumes me immediately and takes me back somewhere I’ve lost the map to.

Fanfarlo’s album Reservoir is one of these. I’m pulled back in an instant with the first handclap. Something stirs inside me, but what?

Is it the coach trips from KL to Malacca? Head leaning against the glass. Sunlight alternating with shadow alternating with sunlight. Searing heat alternating with the cold blast of the aircon overhead.

Could it be the feeling of home, or rather a specific kind of home-ness that I can never have again, because in the intervening years we have all moved on to different places and different lives?

Is it the solace I must have found in these songs at some point? An escape from some trouble so far gone, so long overcome, I can’t pinpoint what it is?

And what rabbit-hole did I go down to find this song (or in this case, I love the whole darn album) in the first place? What film, what show, what accidental find?

That’s the magic of music, isn’t it – it’s not just a bunch of notes and instruments that make a nice mishmash of sound. It’s a companion, a witness to a particular timestamp in your life. A kind of time capsule. Or an old friend, that was always ready to sweep you into its embrace. Not judging, just listening, as much as you were listening to it too.

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—

Percy Bysshe Shelley

…where humbling revelations abound,” said Faeez to me.

Yes, as opposed to me humbling the world with my revelations!

So what has the universe revealed to me?

I’ve learnt that being good at singing and presentations is a state of mind and self, not a rulebook.

I’ve learnt that the older i get, the more I have to sing and speak and write about.

And that’s a good thing. Therefore, ageing is a good thing. I will undoubtedly feel differently when I hit 40.

I’ve also learnt, or rather admitted, that I really have nothing much to write about. Unless you want to hear about my weekends, which, if I’m in Frankfurt, are mostly spent rearranging and redecorating the flat, doing laundry, admiring the pretty picture that is my sofa, the cushions sitting on it, and the painting hanging above.

I’ve learnt that people are funny. Hilarious sometimes. We think we grow up but we don’t, really.

And whenever you’re mad at people, you’re the one being funny.

But it’s okay as long as you laugh, too.

I’ve also learnt that people can be assholes. Ha, ha, ha! (See?)

But people can also be wonderful. Including me, as long as I try.

Not that I necessarily like people. I now enjoy hanging out by myself a bit too much.

I have also come to like my face.

Speaking of silly faces, I’ve learnt that I love having nephews.

I am glad I have my parents, fraught as this can be.

I like having siblings and their spouses to boot.

I’ve learnt that some books are genuinely hard to read. It’s not the content, it’s not you, it’s the prose. Has anyone read Sapiens? No, really, has anyone REALLY read Sapiens?

I’ve learnt that emotions are really puppets and you have strings to control them. Just gotta remember to wield them.

So has anyone picked up on the irony of this post yet?

Happy 2020 🙂

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!

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.

August 2021