slow

species

Now that Internet feels thoroughly horrible most of the time, where can I go next?

Is it hormones? I’ve been writing in all my formal emails: “I hope you have a gentle end to 2020.”/”I hope you have a gentle turn into 2021.” I’m having such a hard end, such a grief- and anxiety-stricken turn.

I’m at the park. Instead of running, I’m sitting on a bench, watching the runners, the children, the dogs, the other people sitting and watching. I’m watching the trees and their leaves. I Googled “sunset singapore” a few minutes ago: 7.09pm. I’m waiting to watch the light change.

I have Spotify stemming my ears. The shuffle function is leading me through a string of ballads. I rarely listen to music like this nowadays. I rarely really pay attention. Music has been more like a battery pack, or a means of endurance or isolation. Listening properly now, I’m beginning to cry in this beautiful park, amidst these lives that go on despite everything. Despite knowing, even if only subconsciously, in some crevice of repressed feeling, that the world is still on fire.

I am also beginning to see how grief stays. I’ve felt varying degrees of sadness and misery. But none of them have felt as permanent as this, this sense of being forever changed after losing you. “Losing you” doesn’t sound right. I’ve tried hard to not-possess you.

In the end, my instinct to accept what we couldn’t excavate from memory was right — at least I think so. What do we expect ourselves to fully understand about our histories? There is a limit to how much we can know about anything. And there are holes in language, holes through which so much slips through. To chip at the knowable is an act of tenacity; to accept the unknowable is an act of courage.

My new understanding of language was one of the hardest things to arrive at this year. That the thing that saved me, which I desperately romance and continually strive for precision in, is terrifyingly flawed and leaking. I have worked really hard to get good at this, but there is no perfect precision here. I will be misunderstood. I will misunderstand.

Is accepting this opacity pessimism or pragmatism? Is it a part of Zen, a way of making peace? Why does the world turn away from me?

But of course it does not. It still faces me; what I’ve done is, in fact, come to better understand it. Its temperament makes sense now. In some ways, our break-up also now makes sense. I am still learning to live. I am learning that to live is also to grieve griefs that stay.

Where is my sunset? It is past 7.09pm, but the sky has simply darkened without the vivid tinge of orange-pink I was hoping to see. Still the children are playing, the runners are running, and the dogs sniff the ground as they go.

Today was a good day. I don’t log enough of my good days, so here I am. I would like to dwell on the charmed and wonderful life I have.

I started the day by moving every single task I had lined up for today (I, again, forgot that it was a public holiday) to tomorrow. I knitted and watched a long-ass criminal psychology video. Then I had tendon at family lunch, plus blackball after. I’ve only had tendon a couple times, but I’ve realised it’s really perfect for me right now. It’s not a whole lot of rice, and the rice that is there is properly covered in sauce. I also love fried stuff but dislike oily food, so tempura vegetables are really great… the balance makes me happy. It’s also super filling? So having tendon for lunch is really perfect – afterwards I can have a super light dinner and enter my fast cycle more easily than normal because I’m so satiated. Anyway – the tendon was delicious. I’m thankful to be able to afford and enjoy these things. I treated my family to the meal, too, which made me feel a bit more reliable and useful than usual.

Back home, I started on Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. It was a really breezy read, but I fell asleep because I was reading while lying in bed, and the food coma was so intense. When I woke, it was 5pm. I slowly reoriented myself, then went running. After a series of running sessions where my leg muscles acted up, they finally held up and I covered a new record distance for this running stint (since Circuit Breaker), at just over 4km. At this point, my stamina far outpaces my legs’ ability to run – I can feel the ache in my calves way, way before I feel anything in my chest. I actually finished this new record without much panting, too. So I think I need to work on my calves if I want to go further (I do). After running, I did some exercises at the exercise corner of the park. Then I took off my socks and shoes and walked the foot massage path. Something about it always lures me into a meditative state. It was really good for me.

After getting home and showering, I finished the book. The fastest read I’ve had in ages. The plot was novel and pretty well-written, and I see why the book became a bestseller. It didn’t particularly move me, though. It was a little too economical, a little too sparse. After reading, I watched a Korean variety show, and now I’m writing this.

All in all, a really nice off-day for someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. After my social burnout recently, I’m just really happy to get solo time. I’ve also been processing a lot of repressed thoughts and emotions, which have been surfacing over the last few weeks. So the brief rest and reprieve is much needed.

I’m just an old person, aren’t I? I used to think I was an old soul, and that my physical age would eventually catch up with my mind/consciousness. But as time passes, it seems my soul continues to speed ahead. And now my physical habits and preferences, too, like eating oatmeal and barely seasoned vegetables, like walking the foot massage path… I’m also beginning to find many parts of technology opaque and exhausting – which is probably not just an old person thing, but it makes me feel old. Because I used to pick up new technology and Internet things really quickly, and now everything feels creaky and slow to take up. Maybe I’ve just hit the upper limit of more common applications and software (plus I’ve totally avoided things like TikTok), but it makes me feel like a rusty screw.

Anyway, the point is that I feel very old. And I don’t mean this in the quirky protagonist of a teen movie kind of way. I just mean that I feel old, like my consciousness is outpacing my speed of existence. Oftentimes I feel estranged from my peers – culturally, emotionally and mentally. It’s not always a bad thing; I mostly enjoy this vantage point. Ultimately there’s a lot of perspective to be had, and courage to be gained from being here, from having weathered my brain’s endless processing of the world at breakneck speed.

As with so many things about who I am and what I’ve been given, I’m thankful, just really tired and lonely. Exhaustion I can take, and I can slowly learn to counter. Loneliness is a little more difficult. In that regard, in terms of interacting with people and knowing how to live alongside my loneliness (instead of just enduring it), I am, I guess, still a small, naive child.

landing

I’ve been doing sun salutations the last few mornings, first thing when I wake. It keeps me from starting my day with social media or emails or text messages.

Today I went running. Instead of letting myself stew in my room watching shows I thought I would do better spending a couple hours outdoors. Alone especially, because yesterday I ran out of social energy and arrived home in considerable pain/ agitation/ indignation, like someone finally let out of a cage. A miscalculation on my part. This year I’ve definitely stretched my social self way more than I ever have or ever thought I would, and it’s high time I prioritise my introversion/ devise new ways of withdrawing from the world.

The muscles on the front my shins (what do you call them, these siblings of calf muscles) are still overworked so I couldn’t run for long. But I went down early today, at about 3.45pm, so there was hardly anyone around even though it was a little bit sunnier than I liked. I walked for a bit after I stopped running, and it was kind of meditative, more so because there wasn’t as much noise (visual, aural, etc.) as usual. I used the public exercise equipment a little bit. Then I decided to meditate for a while at the table near the playground. I’ve been living in routines recently so this divergence was oddly exhilarating. And very restorative.

As I was leaving the table, ready to head home, I spotted the swings and, changing my mind, went to sit on one of them for a bit. I’ve never done well with swings, or anything that requires my feet to be off solid ground (cycling, swimming, etc.), so I was careful. Previously, any bit of swinging would cause considerable nausea (motion sickness) and hyperventilation/breathlessness (anxiety).

Somehow, it was okay today. I still felt my body stiffen, nervous, but I didn’t get nauseous. The breathlessness was slight, so I could manage it by focusing on breathing slowly. I managed to swing for a while, and it was nice. I got a little dizzy. I felt a bit like the child I could have been. I wonder how this new calm has come about, though I think I know, and I think I’ve recognised it in myself for some time now. But the explicit physiological change was quite something to feel in my body, and to observe from within it. I’m thankful to be (in) here.

When the rupture happened at 15, I started very far within, altering little strands of self, trying to become good. Wanting to want to live meant I had to begin by accepting myself. I wrote notes and quotes in the margins of my schedulers, enforcing a slew of positive thoughts to fall back on, to romanticize a life into being. These quotes about light, hope, courage were crucial because I loved (and still love) words. They move and convince me about all kinds of things.

It couldn’t quite be helped, but in the process of gaining what I saw as control over my life and person, I also cemented existing infrastructures around who I was and who I was meant to be: successful, pretty, well-liked, someone who outcompeted everyone. For a while I erected a self-worth around my ability to achieve. This practice sickened my already resentful mind, but it gave me clear goals to focus on. I began to overwork myself, of my own accord.

As I worked hard to become a good and highly-achieving person, my unstable sense of self (built upon a lousy indicator) continued to collapse and resurrect, collapse and resurrect. With each rebuild I seemed to get a little bit stronger. I started to see suffering, or harsh journeys/ordeals, as a mode of growth. I was changing my mind about my experiences. I started to welcome challenge, I started to see that I was, in some way, invincible because I always got up again. Of course, this process and mindset was very costly. One of the greatest prices I paid was when I made the courageous leap to go to university abroad despite knowing that my volatile anxiety would be set off in all kinds of ways. I made good on that opportunity, I think, but I totally dissociated out of sheer panic. And that dissociation has persisted in varying levels ever since. It has wedged a thick slab of glass between my consciousness/mind and my immediate experience.

I also have to say: I cannot trace the timeline clearly… I cannot quite place whether certain memories came before or after the rupture, for though the rupture was a clear break, an undeniable mark of a new phase, bad habits persisted. Feeling unquellable rage at myself for sleeping past my bus stop, pinching myself, enacting the verbal abuse I’d been subjected to previously upon myself, screaming into my pillow, tearing up papers and scotch-taping them back together, making sure I only tore the less valuable ones because I couldn’t afford to actually tear up my notes, punching my soft toys… The ways I tore at myself mentally were horrible.

And that day when I was 11 or 12, when a severe bout of gastric took over, a stress response that made me unable to stand – the day I realized that something was gravely wrong. I lay there curled up in my grandmother’s bed, crying as the adults tried to understand what was going on. What was happening was that I was being driven mad, to a state of total self-hatred by a powerful adult. I contemplated dying at a very early age. When I crossed roads, I imagined stepping right in front of a coming car and staying there as it plunged its body into mine. I imagined jumping down a building. I decided it would be too painful a death. And I imagined my father crying, destroyed, and I knew I could not die. Knowing that he loved me so deeply that my death would cause him irreversible harm kept me alive.

By 17 and 18 I started to regain a sense of self. I started to step forward for things I wanted. I think I had, by that time, become a pretty good person. I had good friends who I felt I also gave joy to. I felt I had begun to deserve the things I had. I was still depressed, and my anxiety disorder was still harsh and present, but I liked myself a little bit.

I’m getting a little tired now, from reaching backward like this. So maybe I’ll set the years from 18 to 23 aside for now. Maybe I’ll make a leap now, very quickly, to what I’ve meant to say from the beginning, which is:

In this past year, I’ve managed to build sturdy doors in my head, around which mental muscle strands wrap. I’ve been exercising them regularly. I’ve been saying things to my brain with each difficult incident, little convincing statements that stick a little more the more I say it. And when I’m anxious and panicked again, I can easily reach for these statements. I can back them with evidence I’ve stored in my memory that I don’t have to move so quickly. The more you exercise these muscles, the easier the doors are to open and close at will.

As I’ve come to realize this, I’ve also gained even more clarity about the methods I’ve developed since 15, the ones that have allowed me to change my mindset, habits, and practices so significantly over the years, and at will. I can change my own mind. I think that’s a very powerful thing that I know how to do.

It begins with working toward as objective a truth as you can manage about yourself, one that emphasizes what you have and what you are instead of the reverse. I learnt a phrase for this kind of thinking just this year: asset-based thinking. From there, I set up new truths in the form of statements and memories that back them up. I reiterate these statements regularly to myself, especially to counter the unhealthy or undesired trains of thought that my brain falls back on in difficult situations. It is an act of persuasion. And as I’ve kind of said above, with each iteration, the persuasive power grows stronger. Of course I will fail, many times. I will discover that I’ve not shed many terrible thoughts. They may always reside somewhere, but at least with each attempt I get a little better at combatting them. And I also get a little better at forgiving myself for struggling. I learn to catch myself and take care of my mind and body as though I am my own child, my own friend, my own lover.

Oh. This is antifragility, isn’t it? The process and logic I’m so hung up on… it already exists in me. I am, in many ways, antifragile. Every attempt, regardless of result, is generative.

It’s also interesting how I developed this method of my own accord at 15, and never fully realized what it was that my mind was doing. I only knew that I was writing these quotes, and whatever my brain was doing with them was working. I was thinking these thoughts, and something inside of me was ingesting them, metabolizing them into a life.

My life is full and unfolding as I type this. I am here in my life, living it, and it is a whole and lush existence in all its mundanity, in all its blacks and blues. Passivity, inaction, effortlessness, laziness… I’ve come to see how crucial they are. And the critical writing that I’ve read about labour and capitalism has also helped me understand how to reposition myself within the system.

As much as I’ve worked hard to get here, I’ve also been very privileged, and then very lucky. I am often confused but also very thankful. I will continue to learn how to live, and how it is I want to live. I will strive to do good with what I have, to honour each moment by living within it instead of running ahead.

Someone left a rather cruel comment on an IG post I ran as an ad for Loving Things. It hit me pretty hard. Even though I tried not to feel it and kept a straight face in front of C, on the walk home from the train station I felt myself close to tears.

At first I posted a screenshot (with the account handle hidden) on IG stories. I guess it was a kind of SOS, a millennial/gen-z’s cry for comfort. J responded very quickly and kindly… I am grateful for the presence of people like him in my life, who are not overly sorry or soothing about what has happened, but rather balanced. Focused on making me conscious of how I feel and comforting me in a calm, collected manner. Right now, where I am, such a response really helps.

I wanted to metabolize this hurt somehow, into something more fertile, more nourishing. I always return to the idea of antifragility… how can harm become something that also feeds my spirit? How can harm bring about an increase in good energy or well-being?

I deleted the screenshot I had posted. Using the strength J had given me, I read the poem Desiderata, which I’ve been thinking about, and channeled my energy into celebrating its place in my life. I think I feel better now, but I also wonder what kind of process this is. Isn’t living about experiencing harm, too? And not forcing good things to come out of the bad?

I think I’m dwelling on this also because I’m turning toward Buddhism and Taoism again, looking at resources online to see if I’d like to really make either path a practice in my life. I wonder a lot about those states of nirvana and calm that their followers strive toward. That is the kind of transcendence I’m after, but I wonder about it as a form of disengagement, disavowal, disconnect, detachment. Those also sound like good things, acts of refusal, but will they draw me away from the people I care about? Will I be unable to relate to them, to feel for and with them?

Is sadness a form of suffering I wish to disengage from? Is the presence of the ego really a knife in the side of living?

after spending some time meeting new, different people on okc, my main thought is that… we’re really all just trying to make sense of the world from where we’re each standing. we’re all just trying to survive it, or thrive within it, or form a kind of relationship with the world (whether it involves resentment or affection) that sustains us.

i’m returned to the thought that has finally become feeling in the past months: that we really are all one energetic and spiritual mass passing through each other, one body lived out in a gazillion different refractions.

Many hands make light work

I miss the rush that comes from feeling like a part of a large group, like when we finished a production in school and my heart was full to bursting. I would like to do something that feels that way again.

slow progress, but i’ve been moving for so long that i’m getting somewhere

I’m glad that, more and more, I can see my daily moods and feelings as passing winds. Although dissociation took a lot away from me, it also formed a door that perhaps I’ve learnt to metabolize and use on my own terms. Or maybe they are two totally different things, but I just want to come to terms with my dissociation. Either way, it’s been really useful. As with dissociation I feel a bit colder, more distant, more disentangled from the world. As though I’m floating, like I expressed to David one to two years ago, a little off the ground. And my pure being, my spirit, floats a little out of my body, this vessel and avatar.

Anyway, the point I wanted to make from the beginning is that I’m trying intermittent fasting again, in a bid to improve my eating habits and clear my head more. I can’t say I’m not interested in getting a bit thinner, but I really, really don’t want to acknowledge those thoughts. So let’s say it’s mental clarity I want. (But I know, I know what I’m thinking and I’m still working on untying those knots. I’ve tugged at them for more than half my life now.)

Anyway, the point is that the keto flu from doing this fast is knocking me out a bit, and being tired and unmotivated is easier to deal with when I know that I’m not my mood, and that most moods are the result of a whole swarm of factors, many of which are not within my immediate control. Like this keto flu, which should pass in a couple days. Besides, I’m not on a keto diet in my eating hours, so it’s not half bad at all. It was just hard today, this morning, when I had a physical meeting with lots of people and a long presentation to listen to. And this writing assignment I’m trying to rush out. But I’m okay. I had a big lunch, and am going to have some milk tea now \( ̄▽ ̄)/