Two tongues

HVT
Today I am severely missing the gorgeous view at the Hooker Valley Track

I have come to understand that society in some ways, was built on contradictions.

When I was a kid, I was served a pair of opposing philosophies to approach the larger world. Firstly that ‘good things come to those who wait’ and secondly, ‘if you want something, you have to go out there and get it’. Both were served in largely equal measures depending on the situation and what my parents perceived to be the most effective strategy to get me to shut up.

If I dragged that out to a more adult context, it would be me shutting my whining about not getting that girl because who knows, she could walk in through the door if you wait long enough (I have come to know this as being completely bollocks) and if you want that well-paying executive job, you have to get into the face of the interviewer and show them that you really want it (can backfire and make you look like sad try-hard sod). I grew up not quite understanding how each philosophy properly applies, except to know that neither has really worked for me, in almost equal measures.

Then again, if you scaled that back further, a middle class Asian upbringing is often filled with stacks of ridiculous contradictions. How our parents want to feed us well and gawk at our salad-chomping ways but then complain when we get too fat. Or how they want us to work hard to earn an honest living but nag when we have to work late to meet deadlines. It’s like trying to score against a constantly shifting goalpost and feeling like a loser when you don’t, which is most of the time.

But it got me thinking about the byproduct of these contradictions. What happens to the people who have been raised this way? What kind of an adult do they end up being? Can someone really be untouched by such perplexing parenting and if so, what does that say about the effects of rearing anyway? We might as well just leave a child to grow up in the corner of a room if that’s the case.

Perhaps this is one reason why we have people who are quite adept at missing the point of something. I have watched families slowly being put to sleep because the father pours himself completely into work so that he can provide for the family. I have seen romantic relationships end because one person decided that the other ‘loves them too much’. Or how about people who accept the wonderful terms of a gracious God for their wretched existence, only to turn around and judge another for being not good enough to accept those terms.

It’s tragic when these things happen, because it’s one thing to stride for something and fail in our efforts to, it’s another to be served the assessment that the reason why things did not pan out was because you were busy trying to make that very thing work. It’s somewhat insane and yet it is happening everyday at places that are near each and every one of us.

That is somehow so sad and incomprehensible to me …

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Weights and measures

ZillaWhat we define as reality is really just perspective …

I used to love a good moan. I would moan about anything from the state of my personal relationships to how overcooked my sunny sides where in the morning. Age has extinguished a lot of the unnecessary fires of youth so I moan a lot less these days but there was a period where I absolutely adored a yummy chunky moan.

Over the weekend I was in the presence of someone who was having a ‘moan’, lambasting her existence and the people who are forcing her to be in it. At the height of her moaning aria, she stopped herself and said, ‘But actually I can recognise that my life is not that bad’. Her half-serious facade suggested that she was clearly aware that the high drama of her moan, does not commensurate with the severity of her problems. She was aware that she was just having a bit of a moan.

In the last couple of days, I have been combing my 40-year existence in my head, with a keen eye and a checklist tagged to an imaginary clipboard . Why? I’ve been wondering if the % of my existence I’ve spent moaning and mopping about stuff was justified, or just fluff.  Perhaps I was just cursed with a terrible perspective of my existence and was consigned to being a whiny little bastard for little reason. Jury’s still out.

It often fascinates me that while a lot of us occupy the same spaces as other individuals, our perspective of our surroundings could be colored radically different from the person standing just next to us. I have experienced seasons where it felt like the ground was being re-mattered into muesli and I am struggling to hold my existence together, to keep it from dissipating into a thousand pieces. At the same time, a close friend would be experiencing the life equivalent of being a oft-ignored bachelor coming home to Miranda Kerr standing at the doorway of the apartment with a beer in her hand while excitedly preparing a dinner of bacon casserole with a side of Doritos Cool Ranch.  That’s better than good, by the way.

The physical world rarely matters to us as a collective. Our agendas are often markedly dissimilar despite existing under the same patch of clouds or occupying the same roads during a big demonstration. Our colors may be the same then, but our perspectives could be quite different. So until we are invaded by Martians and forced to band together to fight the threat of extermination, perspectives are probably going to rule the coop.

It concerns me that I fundamentally have no universal baseline by which to gauge my existence. How do I know if the contentment I feel these days is a result of an actually fulfilled life, or just a temporary rose-tinted perspective with a side of delusion? Being ruled by these incredibly unsettled facets worries me. I would prefer to plant my flag on something a little more unmovable, so that I can be certain of at least some portions of the outcome.

Perhaps that is why we have a thing called faith, and the person we have faith on …

Baby, you’re my light

Blog-1That 10 seconds, it’s what separates love and apathy.

I used to have a habit of assigning value to superfluous things in a bid to obtain more meaning to my surroundings. In regards to the partner I wanted, I was certain that she would be absolutely perfect for me if she could sing ‘There’s a Light that Never Goes Out’ by heart (actually, in hindsight, this cannot be further from the truth).

With age I’ve gradually realised my folly, mainly that the heart-flutters you’ve reserved for your partner’s ability to karaoke Smiths classics quickly vanishes if they are unkind, vindictive and unreasonable. The truth is, we may dress our needs up in Salford Lads Club threads and train them to speak like dialogue from a Richard Linklater film but our based need to connect with another is really not based on the lyrics of ‘Here Comes Your Man’, no matter how much we think it is.

She affords me those 10 seconds. 10 seconds to gather my shoulder-drooped, scatterbrained thoughts over an issue. 10 seconds to rescind a gob-smacking decision before she sounds the red alert. 10 seconds to just breathe. I’ve never been a boot-to- door kind of guy. I do not rise to duress. I am the schmuck that needs 10 seconds to make the right decision, on just about anything. She gives me that. As such, for the first time in a relationship, I do not feel like I am the last rich cocky Chinese kid in a zombie yarn. It actually feels like I’m going to be around until the end.

I’ve actually taken an unnecessary rendezvous around the derriere of relationship junkyards and ended up back at the words of just about anyone’s mother, ‘Marry someone kind’. Actually it’s more than that for me, ‘Marry someone that gives you 10 seconds to be the best person you can be’.

Yeah …

What have I become?

suit

We all have a closet of jackets somewhere.

Each jacket is a representation of an identity you once wore. Fickle people have larger closets while grounded and square people have much tinier ones. There are also those of us with deep closets with pieces that are hard to reach, or buried.

The style of each jacket can range from the ridiculously flamboyant to the utterly dull for almost anyone. There are some you once wore with absolute swagger when you were a teen but would rather be clocked with a shotgun in the head than be caught wearing them today. There are some that used to fit you comfortably but these days they feel like they are trying to choke every breath out of you. Some have become too small for you, while others have become too large for your shrinking frame.

‘Musician’ is a one I’ve retired recently. It’s not hung deep, but I’ve shuffled it to the corner behind the closed door. It’s never been one I’ve worn comfortably anyway but a lot of people seem to like me in it so I used to wear it, somewhat begrudgingly. I’ve been slowly realizing that perhaps there are other ones that fit me a lot better. I still wear the ‘Writer’ one occasionally. It’s a little aged but it still fits and I’m comfortable enough in it. ‘Married’ is a brand new one that I would be adding into the closet this year. It’s one that I have perhaps been expecting to own for some time now but has always eluded me. The price, cut and fit have never really aligned, until now. Tomorrow, I retire the ’30s’ one. That ragged and torn one I’ve been wearing for exactly a decade now, and with it, goes supposedly any lingering shred of youth. Yet, I’ve never felt more alive.

I am expecting my closet to shrink dramatically in the coming years. There are those that would say nay, because it doesn’t have to be so. That’s true, but stability has never been something I had the pleasure of enjoying for a long time in my existence. I am going to enjoy kicking back a little and working with as little identities as possible for a while, to try and make the few I have stronger than any one’s I’ve had before.

It’s my own cheating heart that makes me cry

the-brooding-caped-crusader

I watched a film recently that tricked me into thinking the misguided protagonist was just a story prose, destined to be stopped by the little heroine at the end, only to discover I was in actual fact watching the origin story of a villain. The tables were flipped in my head and I was both enraged at being played a fool but contented for witnessing a piece of cinematic brilliance.

We’ve heard the expression, ‘life imitates art’. There is a saying that is often linked to Oscar Wilde’s 1889 essay The Decay of Lying, “What is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists have taught people to find there, through art”. Lovely and all, but I seem to find myself grasping a little at straws when it comes to how ‘art’ has mostly represented heroism and villainy.

I won’t pretend to know the finest corners of the art world. Most of what enlightened society deems as art is unfortunately not very compelling to me. Art, to me, needs to have a moving narrative. Pictures and painting stay far too still for my liking. Perhaps because I have a stunted imagination. Writing and films, that’s where art mostly is to me. Writing requires some motion from my imagination but it’s hardly cartwheels, while films are well, constantly moving, in one way or the other.

‘Films’ have been educating me since I was five that there is often a fence between both heroism and villainy. Sure, we revel in art that attempts to blur that divide (art house films have made a calling card out of this prose), but for the most part, the classic sentiment is relevant – there is always a protagonist and an antagonist in most films. Perhaps it is what’s necessary for the art form to make sense, to be compelling. These two forces are often at opposite tangents, with markedly different agendas, who agree on little while confronting on a lot.

Yet I find myself being both the protagonist as well as the antagonist of my life. For as much time as I have apportioned in trying to secure an existence where I am happy, I also spend possibly equal amounts of time pissing over it by making illogical decisions to undo these plans. It’s like I am both the coyote and the quick bird, Tom and Jerry rolled into one. That for every effort spent on a good deed, effort is also spent on me doubling back and brutally power-drilling said deed in the skull. If I were a film, I would be an absolutely excruciating watch.

A lot of us would be quick to draw a line between us and people struggling with identity disorders but yet we often behave as if we are wrecked by the same disease. How would you explain people who rocket their good and stable marriage to smithereens over a senseless fizzy affair? Or people who in most cases would lambast a movie character for making that stupid decision but would in turn, make that same decision for themselves when confronted with the same dilemma in reality. Why? That well-aged head versus heart trope again?

I think we usually position ourselves as wanting what’s best for us. But history would fashion a retort. If this were true, we would spend far less moments grovelling in the language of regret. ‘If only’ is a mistress we make bed with far too willingly.

Perhaps we fundamentally love misery so much that we would gladly play the antagonist ourselves even there is no one that readily wants to be one for us.

Born under a bad sign

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We can’t give what we don’t have

I’ve been hearing this phrase a lot lately, mostly in relation to leadership and spirituality. The idea that you can’t draw from an empty pail to replenish a thirsty jar because you do not have what the other person needs. The phrase was obviously designed to elicit a reaction, specifically to load up so that when it was needed, we would not be in want.

Each of our existences paints a unique picture. Mine was essentially a genealogical recount of a life built on quicksand while people watched and laughed akin to those silly Japanese game shows where someone almost always gets wet or dunked into a vat of cream. My thoughts zip back to specific instances, my parents’ divorce, financial issues to the cusp of poverty, dysfunctional relationships, ageing and dependent parent to care for, etc.

I’ve felt like a bloated, overfilled flask for sometime now. And no, that’s not an examination of my increasingly portly physique (although that is also true). I do feel I have something to give. Nothing great or spectacular. I am not even sure if it’s really valuable. Namely, how I survived a bruised and tattered existence.

But in a world where disheveled candor has been replaced by carefully-posed ‘candor’, I find myself with something to give, but no one really to give it to. ‘Everybody goes through shit, they just don’t show it’, is the refrain fed to me constantly. I know that. But it’s awkward to serve a meal to someone who hasn’t walked into your restaurant. I sometimes feel I would’ve been better off being born in the 60s, slapped with the same narratives I’ve been slapped with and emerging with something to offer disillusioned youths by the time the cynical and broody 90s rolled around.

I feel like a soldier without a war sometimes. These days, it often seems like a person who largely cake-walked through teenhood with a few slips has more to give to the young and coming. Namely about living life to the fullest, and not just surviving it, like I have. I understand of course. I can’t expect a teenager to appreciate the importance of a sturdy mattress over a weekend night out. We want what we need, when we need it. There just doesn’t seem to be a need for me regaling tales of my war-mongering ways with life at the moment.

My tale is not one of triumph. It’s not a tale of charging neck first into a mastodon and ripping it to shreds. But it’s a tale of going up against challenging odds, being swung around like a ragged doll, tossed into the walls of life but yet finding enough resolve to not die. It’s not the kind tale that people would be accustomed to share these days. We love our underdog tales these days served with a large side of bravado and fearlessness. I was afraid and hopeless but I got out of it by weathering the onslaught.

But I do believe there are people out there who are being crushed against a wall like I was, no foreseeable cavalry in sight, sitting idly on a bench watching the world spinning wonderfully and beautifully around them without being included in its whirlwind. You know, when you sometimes feel like God skipped you when he was handing out rations or worst, forgotten that He ever made you (He has not). I’ve been there, hung on just tight enough and so I am here, ready to tell the tale. Unfortunately, not many people seem to want to hear it at the moment.

Perhaps when the channel switches to something a little more gnarly in the future.

Perhaps …

The never played symphonies

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Damien Chazelle’s La La Land

It’s not trying to say that life is a musical, quite the contrary.

At its core, it’s an exposition on mundane complexities that sometimes derail the more fantastical aspects of our existence. I got that from Stone prancing around in a cute one-piece? Not quite. Look behind those enchanting eyes, there is a lot of life hidden in there somewhere. Not life as a choral accompaniment, but life as we know it, a stubborn dirty fighter that never backs down.

Perhaps I’ve digressed. The reality is that life is not a regulated sport. It does not conform to agreed precepts and it isn’t always required to reimburse what it intentionally or unintentionally robbed you of. We sling around cliche proclamations like ‘life is unfair’ while thinking about that frail old lady down the street who got hurt simply because a pair of irresponsible youths decided she would be an easy target on an unassuming needy night.

But what about those abhorring decisions we have to make sometimes? The ones that eventually results in the death of something precious in your existence? What about those? The ones that punish you for doing what you have to do. Not quite so easy to wave those away with a lazy blanket statement.

I used to appeal figuratively to an ethics committee, demanding to know why I was penalised for essentially doing the right thing. Isn’t it supposed to be likened to a mathematical equation? That if I sum the right parts I would be guaranteed the intended eventuality. I was forcefully dealt those cards in some instances, not that I went looking for a poker table. The committee had a moral obligation to absolve me. Otherwise we would descent into absolute anarchy, right?

That’s before I realised that one of the biggest fundamental mistakes we make about life is that we often assume it plays on your team, albeit occasionally uncooperative and disruptive but a teammate nonetheless. The truth is, it does not. It doesn’t even play for the opposition. It just moves around with little consideration for you and whatever reward or destruction you reap is largely accidental.

The day I came to that realisation was a cold and lonely one …